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dingbat

Printable Version
Pronunciation: ding-bæt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A screwy or stupid person, someone who is crackers, bonkers, or otherwise mentally impaired.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes with two adjectives, one American, dingbatty, the other Australian and New Zealand, dingbats, as in 'Your mother's dingbats'. The latter serves as an abstract noun, too, as 'to have the dingbats', meaning "to have delirium tremens" or "be slightly mad".

In Play: I like to call words like today's "fake insults", a mild chide of someone for a harmless mistake: "That dingbat called 411 to get the number for 911." We would use a stronger insult for people we genuinely dislike. We are more likely to laugh at the gaffs made by dingbats than get angry: "That dingbat thinks that the novel Cervantes wrote is called Donkey Oatey."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a nonsense word in a class with words like thingamajig, doohickey, and boondoggle. We have only the vaguest idea of how these words came about. We can see real words inside them, ding + bat, for instance, but they make no sense together. Ding in Dutch means "thing" and bat has both the English meanings in Dutch, but Dutch doesn't have the word dingbat. The best explanation of this word may be a mixture of ding-a-ling with the phrase 'bats in the belfry', both implying screwiness. Dingbat's meaning has careened around considerably in England since its first mention around 1838: some kind of money, "hobo", a kind of alcoholic drink, a kind of muffin, an ornamental piece of printing type. Its current US meaning dates back to the 1900s. It was popularized in the US in the TV show "All in the Family" (1971-1979) by Archie Bunker, who constantly called his wife, Edith, a dingbat when she did something that made no sense to Archie. (We can now thank William Hupy, our most prolific contributor of Good Words, for today's.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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