• derring-do •
der-ring-du • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Brave, daring deeds; exciting and dangerous things only brave people do.
Notes: The original meaning of this expression was "daring to do", which by a chain of errors ended up a noun (see Word History). Before it did, however, it produced another noun, derring-deed, which is rarely used now. People characterized by derring-do were designated as derring-doers by Edmund Spenser in The Fairie Queene. Utter this word at your own risk.
In Play: Back in the day of Errol Flynn's adventure films, audiences were satisfied with swash-buckling derring-do. Today, movies about pirates, like "Pirates of the Caribbean", are horror films with unbelievable, impossible acts of derring-do. The US president most often associated with derring-do is Theodore Roosevelt, whose charge up San Juan Hill with his Rough Riders was widely publicized.
Word History: Today's Good Word was originally a verb phrase which, through a series of misunderstandings, was converted to a noun. In the late 14th century it was durring don "daring to do", from durring "daring" + don, the infinitive of do. It was first mistaken for a noun by Edmund Spenser, who in The Shepheardes Calender, took it to mean "manhood and chevalrie". This sense was passed on to the Romantic poets, including Sir Walter Scott. English dare goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European dhers- "dare, be brave", which survives in PIE languages like English and Lithuanian, where it emerged as dristi "to dare". The past tense of dare was dearst, which survives in Pennsylvania among older speakers as durst: "I dare not (today)" but "I durst not (yesterday)".