• tarnation •
Part of Speech: Interjection, Mass Noun
Meaning: 1. [Interjection] An exclamation of annoyance. 2. The act of condemning or the state of being condemned.
Notes: Because of its oblique origin (see History), this word has no relatives. The fact that it is most often used as an expletive contributes to this fact since expletives generally are lexical loners.
In Play: Because it was a favorite word of several of my aunts as I was growing up down South, I never really gave much thought to this word. Back when physical discipline was considered virtuous (spare the rod, spoil the child), most southern country boys had the tarnation beaten out of them on a fairly regular basis. (Maybe that is why we are forgetting the word.) I am sure if those gracious ladies who aunted my rise to adulthood had been aware of its origin, they would never have said anything like, "What in tarnation were you thinking when you put your red shirt in the washing machine with my white linen?!" Or, "Tarnation, son, you don't have the sense God gave a goat!"
Word History: Today's Good Word is a mostly home-grown word, though its life did begin in Rome. It started out as the Latinate damnation, which did not sit well with our frontier foremothers. So, about the time damn shifted to darn, damnation went to darnation. From darnation to tarnation was no more than switching a wiggle for a puff of air. The difference between [d] and [t] in English is that we vibrate our vocal cords to pronounce [d] but not for [t] and we puff our [t]s but not our [d]s. (Don't believe it? Put your fingers about 1 inch from your mouth and say, to, then, do, a couple of times.)
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