• dastard •
dæs-têrd • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: An underhanded villain, a nasty poltroon, a knave who is rotten to the core.
Notes: Today's noun has an adjective, dastardly, and a noun, dastardliness, the stuff dastards are made of. We bring this word up today because its meaning is so close to its vulgar fraternal twin that begins with a B, that if you use it as a replacement for that word, your speech will be cleaner and more refreshing. It is a bit outdated and associated with melodrama to the point of being slightly humorous. Try it the next time someone incurs your wrath and see if the substitution does not rapidly defuse the tension—with laughter.
In Play: This word is widely avoided because of its similarity with the 'fraternal twin' mentioned above that lives on the wrong side of the semantic tracks. The adjective is probably more common today: "Putting up posters of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the conference room before the Board meeting is such a dastardly act I can't imagine that you did it!" So long as you mind your Bs and Ds, however, you are free to use the noun itself: "That sorry dastard, Finkley, has taken my parking place every day this week!"
Word History: Today's word is a good old English word, though we aren't sure where it comes from. The suffix -ard is a pejorative agent suffix, that is, a suffix denoting a person whose behavior we disapprove of: dullard, drunkard, laggard. So, what is dast-? It could be Old Norse dęstr "exhausted", though it seems semantically unrelated. Another possibility is that it is a correctly spelled variant of dasart "dullard", made up of dased "dull, stupid" + -ard misspelled. But these are just guesses; no one knows for sure.
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