• dapper •
dæ-pêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Neat, trim, jaunty, spiffy, snazzy, spruce in appearance; smartly groomed and dressed, 2. Lively, sharp, quick. (Applied to males only.)
Notes: The comparative of today's adjective is more dapper and the superlative is most dapper. This word is used most often in the phrase 'Dapper Dan', referring to any dapper man. Dapper men generally have closely cut hair and often use a bit of oily hair tonic to hold it in place. This is why Ulysses Everett McGill (played by George Clooney) in the Coen Brothers' film, 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' exclaims, "Well I don't want Fop, dammit! I'm a Dapper Dan man!" when he finds a store that carried Fop pomade, but not his favorite brand, Dapper Dan.
In Play: The meaning of today's adjective is very narrowly focused on a very neatly dressed man with an air of self-confidence that shows in his posture and walk: "Quentin looked quite dapper in his sharply creased pants, spit-polished shoes, and sprightly gait." The word does carry humorous connotations, though, making it easy to play with: "Lloyd dresses so badly he makes Rodney Dangerfield look dapper!"
Word History: Today's word comes to us from Middle Dutch dapper "quick, strong". It is, oddly enough, related to Russian debelyi "fat, thick", from Proto-Indo-European dheb- "fat, heavy". More expectedly, it is distant cousin to German tapfer "brave", Middle German "solid, weighty", and ancient Tocharian tsopats "big" and tappo "courage"—all from the same source. The phrase "Dapper Dan" comes from a 1921 song of that name written by Lew Brown and Albert Von Tilzer, who also wrote 'The Girl in the Gilded Cage' and 'I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl that Married Dear Old Dad.' He must have been a mama's boy.
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