• dandruff •
Pronunciation: dæn-drêf • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: An itchy flaking of dead skin cells on the scalp.
Notes: Dandruff has apparently been eradicated without the help of the World Health Organization. There was a time when it annoyed people so much that companies producing dandruff treatment shampoos ran ads telling us that people of the opposite sex would be repelled at the site of dandruff on our shoulders. The dictionaries all admit dandruffy as the adjective for this word. That opens the door to dandruffiness "the state of having dandruff."
In Play: We used to hear taunts like this: "Is it snowing outside or is that dandruff on your shoulders?" (It's July; what do you think?) Though it never got so bad as the dandruff shampoo manufacturers suggested in their commercials. We never heard anything like: "Minnie van Sayles never married because she couldn't get her embarrassing dandruff under control until she was fifty years old."
Word History: The origin of the first part of this word, historically a compound, has been lost in the mists of time. Dand- is obviously related to dander "minute flakes of skin, hair or feathers", a common enough allergen. We know a little more about -ruff. This word probably comes from an ancestor of Middle English rove "scabby condition", a word borrowed from Old Norse hrufa "crust, scab". This word goes back to Old Germanic hreufaz, also the source of Old English hreofla "leper". (See the fascinating discussion of this word, originally suggested by David Meyer, in the Alpha Agora—if it doesn't get your dander up.)