Printable Version
Pronunciation: dæs-ênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, auxiliary (sort of)

Meaning: Dare not, dares not.

Notes: This odd little word is generally considered a dialectal variant, but it is heard in the US from Wisconsin to the Deep South, especially in the speech of elderly people. It comes neither from mispronunciation nor ignorance, but from old forms of dare that are no longer used (see History).

In Play: If you hear someone say this, remember that it is just an older form of dares not: "I dasn't drink a martini while I'm taking my medicine for fear of falling victim to the side effects that combination has on some." In Chapter 8 of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain wrote, "I tried to get Tom to come away, but he wouldn't, and I dasn't budge by myself." It sounds a bit dated and twangy, but as long as we read writers like Twain, it will continue to pop up.

Word History: Dare is a part-time auxiliary verb. Only auxiliary verbs (verbs that must appear with another verb) like can, do, and have form contractions (can't, don't, haven't). English also brings auxiliaries out to the front of the sentence in questions, "Dare I take the last chocolate chip cookie?" But we also use it as a regular verb, "Do I dare take the cookie?" So this verb comes to us in a state of confusion. It apparently brought an old form of the imperative with it, for the S was originally in other forms of the verb. We might still hear he durst for "he dared" or she dursn't for "she dared not". Apparently, an old imperative form with an S survived among the nooks and crannies of the English-speaking world. (I dasn't end this discussion without commending the courage of Donald C. Schark for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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