Printable Version
Pronunciation: hêm-drêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Boring, monotonous, dull, routine, lacking excitement.

Notes: This word's humdrum lexical family hasn't even found a place in the major dictionaries. However, humdrummery is slowly making its way into our speech. We are still using humdrum as a noun, too, with the same meaning as humdrummery. Hum also appears in several other compounds, like humdinger, humbug, and humdudgeon.

In Play: Humdrum, like mediocre, has fallen victim to a negative connotation: "Fowler Fairweather grew tired of the humdrum routine at the post office and lit a string of firecrackers to liven things up a bit." It's no wonder that breaking out of humdrummery can lead to bad things: "Robin Banks had a sudden epiphany and thought of a way to break out of his humdrum life."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a rhyming compound comprised of two active words, hum + drum. Rhyming compounds are rarely made up of two real words, and I don't think it coincidental in the case of humdrum. Human humming is less than singing and the humming of other things is usually monotonous. Olden drums were monotonal, hence their beats are monotonous. Hum is clearly onomatopoeic (imitative), so it has no history. Drum may be onomatopoeic, too, but we find cousins in other Germanic languages: German Trommel, Danish tromme, and Swedish trumma. But these seem limited to Germanic languages. Other IE languages came up with different words, e.g. Russian baraban, Czech buben, French tambour, and Greek tumpano. (Now, let's thank newcomer Gary Cook for seeing the excitement in today's humdrum Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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