• don •
dahn • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: 1. (Verb) Put on (clothes). 2. (Noun) A university professor, especially a high-ranking member of the faculty at Oxford or Cambridge University. 3. (Noun) The head of an organized crime ring, a capo in the Mafia.
Notes: As you might have guessed, we are really dealing with distinct words here, though some of our student readers might see a connection between the second and third meanings. (They're right.) Not much may be made from the verb; it has an antonym doff. The noun, however, has been converted to donhood, donlike, even donly, as to speak in a donly manner.
In Play: Let's begin today with a university setting: "Several students watched the don doff his hat and don his robe before leaving for his lecture." But wait a minute: clothing isn't the only thing we may don: "Constance Waring donned an air of wounded pride when she wasn't chosen homecoming queen."
Word History: A hint as to the origin of the verb to don may be seen in its antonym, doff. The verb don is a reduction of the phrase "do on", just as its antonym comes from "do off". The noun is an Italian, Portuguese and Spanish reduction of Latin dominus "lord, master". In Spanish and Portuguese doña is the feminine correlate of don. Italian developed a feminine form of the same Latin word, donna "woman, lady", which we see in madonna, a reduction of the phrase mia donna "my lady". Madonna is the correlate of French madame which English, once again, simply helped itself to. Danger is a French rearrangement of the same Latin word, dominus. Dominarium "authority, power" is presumed to be a derivative of this word. Old French reduced this word to dangier without changing its meaning. Middle English borrowed the French remake as daunger "power, peril", which descended to Modern English as danger. (Let us all don a smile reflecting sincere gratitude to Lin Strack, who suggested today's Good Words.)
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