æd-êl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, Adjective
Meaning: 1. To befuddle, confuse, mix up, rattle, discombobulate. 2. To rot, decay, putrefy.
Notes: I can remember my grandmother admonishing my cousins and me not to addle her so that she lost her concentration in whatever she was doing. Occasionally she would even point out that we had brought in an addled egg from the henhouse. Since her time, however, this lovely old word has all but dropped out of the language. As an adjective, addled, today's word can mean either "rotten" or "muddled".
In Play: Today's Good Word, however its rarity, is used most often in the sense of befuddlement: "The problem, as I see it, is that logic just addles Congress and makes matters worse." In its adjectival usage, this word occurs in a couple of quite current compounds: "Pay students for As on their exams with tuition rebates?! That is the most addle-brained idea I have ever heard!" If you are really committed to word preservation, you may prefer addle-pated to addle-brained in contexts like these.
Word History: The original Old English word, adela, from which addle is derived meant "urine, puddle, or mire". The connection with rotten eggs probably comes from the Latin sentiment expressed in ovum urinŠ "egg of urine" (rotten egg), which was a corruption of Greek ourion-oion "wind-egg". This etymology has nowhere pleasant to go. Let's end it here.
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