• defile •
dee-fayl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A gorge or narrow pass that restricts movement to single file. 2. A single-file line.
Notes: The verb, to defile, is quite common, but we hear less of the noun, which is totally unrelated and only coincidentally spelled and pronounced identically. (A good example why intuition is not to be trusted in tracing the history of words.) Today's word is a lexical orphan, with no related words currently in use.
In Play: Today's word is a good one for reducing your linguistic workload. You may reduce the phrase, a single-file line, with four (count them, 4) words by half, using this Good Word, "Would everyone waiting to purchase tickets please form a defile? Thank you." The insinuation of gluttony hanging over the word gorge dissuades me from using it. But then the connotations of defile hardly recommend it, either: "After gorging themselves at the bottom of the defile, the boys then threw the remains in the trash." Couldn't we have one completely beautiful word for such a beautiful geological formation?
Word History: Today's word comes from French défilé, the past participle of défiler : dé- "away, off" + file "line, file", from Old French filer "to spin a thread, march in order". The root is the same as Middle English filen "to put documents on file", today's file. Ultimately, this root, file, goes back to a PIE root, gwhi- "a thread", with the metaphorical sense of "threading your way" somewhere. The verb, to defile "to befoul" is an variant of defoul, which French also lent us, influenced by Old English fylan, a variant of foul. Confused? Well, then, you should understand how our Middle English ancestors became so confused that they gave up and began pronouncing the two words identically, even though they mean something quite different.
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