• swaddle •
Pronunciation: swah-dêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To swathe, to bandage, to wrap in bandages. 2. To tightly bind a baby with blankets so that it cannot move its arms or legs. 3. To tightly restrain or restrict, to smother, suffocate.
Notes: Swaddling dates back to the Ancient Egyptians, who wrapped their infants in long strips of cloth, a process taking as long as two hours. Swaddled babies were then often hung on a wall peg. Swaddling is still practiced in the Balkans, presumably because the babe feels more like it did in the womb. Many Native Americans once swaddled their papooses.
In Play: Of course, at this time of the year, we associate today's word with Luke 2:12 "And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." (A much better translation than the more modern, "wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough".) However, you do not have to be a Christian to appreciate our word today: "Wash the car! Mow the lawn! Paint the porch! You have to quit swaddling me with so much work and let me relax on the weekends."
Word History: Today's Good Word probably comes to us from one of those English dialects where [th] becomes [t] or [d] (Brooklyn, Ireland, or down South today). It seems to have started out as a diminutive form or form indicating a frequent action (frequentative) of Old English swathian "to swath." So, this word is very much like our recent Good Word, passel, another mispronunciation of a word that went off on its own and worked its way back into the language as a new word.