Friday, August 16, 2002

Word of the Day from M-W: tatterdemalion \tat-er-dih-MAIL-yun\
1 *a : ragged or disreputable in appearance b : being in a decayed state or condition : dilapidated 2 : beggarly, disreputable

The exact origin of "tatterdemalion" is uncertain, but it's probably connected somehow to either the noun "tatter" ("a torn scrap or shred") or the adjective "tattered" ("ragged" or "wearing ragged clothes"). We do know that "tatterdemalion" has been used in print since the 1600s. In its first documented use in 1611, it was used as a noun (as it still can be) in reference to a person in ragged clothing -- the type we might also call a ragamuffin. ("Ragamuffin," incidentally, predates "tatterdemalion" in this sense. Like "tatterdemalion," it may have been formed by combining a known word, "rag," with a fanciful ending.) Within three years of the first appearance of "tatterdemalion," it came to be used as an adjective for anything or anyone ragged or disreputable.

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