Printable Version
Pronunciation: deft Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Dexterous, lightly skillful, gracefully adroit, seemingly easily done.

Notes: This lovely little word is one of my favorites, accidentally omitted from The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English. It is also a rarity, a word that is pronounced exactly as it is spelled. An authentic (unborrowed) English word, its adverb is deftly and its noun, deftness.

In Play: First, an example that demonstrates the beauty of this word: "In the evening the visitors were regaled with lovely Thai dancers, whose deft movements enthralled the group." Now, back to business: "Herman was not deft enough to dodge the pot his wife hurled at him when he came home at 2 o'clock in the morning."

Word History: If we go back to Old English, we find this word hidden in gedæfte "mild, gentle, meek" from the Proto-Germanic stem dab-, found in Gothic gadaban "to become, befit". When it had lost the prefix ge-, gedæfte's literal and figurative meanings split up, which led to a split in pronunciation. The two new meanings were "mild, gentle, meek" and "dull, uncouth, boorish". The two new meanings were "mild, gentle, meek" and "dull, uncouth, boorish". They attached themselves to two new pronunciations and spellings: deft and daft. The latter went onto become daffy in America. We might see descendants in Dutch deftig "decent, dignified, fancy" and Old Norse (Viking) dafna "to grow strong". However, the meanings are so off course even this relationship is dubious. Where the original dab- came from is a complete mystery; it is not found in any Indo-European language outside Germanic. (Now let's give Albert Skiles a bow for yet another deft suggestion that we turn our attention to today's lovely Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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