Printable Version
Pronunciation: dis-she-vêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To tousle the hair or clothing, to put them in disarray. 2. To disarrange, throw into disorder.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a true orphan negative; there is no shevel. This verb has two orthographies: in the US it is conjugated disheveled and disheveling, but outside the US the L is doubled: dishevelled and dishevelling. We can make nouns out of both the verb (dishevelment) and the adjective (disheveledness).

In Play: The past participle is the form of today's Good Word that is used most often: "When Melody's parents arrived home early, she and Benjamin rose from the couch disheveled, but happy they hadn't arrived a half hour later." We often forget that we have a verb to play with, too: "When he saw the boss coming down the hall, Will Doolittle quickly disheveled his hair so as to appear working."

Word History: The history of today's word runs counter to its derivational origin. Derivationally, disheveled is the past tense and participle of the verb dishevel. Historically, disheveled came first, and dishevel was 'back-derived' from it. Originally dishevel came from the Middle English adjective discheveled "bare-headed". This word was borrowed from Old French deschevele "bare-headed, with disheveled hair", the past participle of descheveler "to tousle the hair", made up of des- "apart" + chevel "hair". French inherited its word for "hair" from Latin capillus "hair", which also gave us, again via French, capillary. This word would seem to be a relative of caput (Genitive capitis) "head", but to explore the connection would take us too far off couse. (Now we all owe a note of gratitude to the never disheveled mind of Rob Towart for recommending today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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