Printable Version
Pronunciation: shæ-bee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. The worse for wear, in poor condition from use. 2. Dressed in worn or dirty clothes. 3. Contemptibly mean, ungenerous, or dishonorable (people or actions).

Notes: Today's word is purely English, proven by the fact that it comes with a normal English adverb, shabbily, and noun, shabbiness. If that doesn't convince you, it also has a quickly becoming obsolete single word comparison and superlative: shabbier and shabbiest. A relative that has already become obsolete is shabaroon, which at one time meant "disreputable person".

In Play: Most of its life, shabby has referred to clothes and furniture: "Hercule preferred the dishabille style of dress: shabby shirt, wrinkled shorts, and unkempt hair." It may be used in the negative to refer to something quite fashionable and in excellent condition, though: "Doug's new car is not at all shabby." Actions may also be shabby in the sense of simply "bad": "Ferenc received shabby treatment in his job at the State Department."

Word History: Today's Good Word is based on shab "scab" + -y, a common adjective suffix. Old English sceabb "scab, itch" was 'borrowed' from Old Norse skabb "scab, itch" during one of those Viking 'visits' to the coastal regions of England in the tenth century. A dialectal version of scabby, shabby, could be taken to mean the same as the current word shabby. By the end of the 19th century the two parted semantic company. Both words go back to PIE (s)kep- "to cut, scrape, hack", which turned up in Latin as scabies "scab, itch, mange" from scabere "to scratch." English borrowed this word wholesale. German has a similar word schäbig "shabby, dowdy, sleazy." (It would be shabby of us to forget to thank Rob Towart for recommending today's totally unshabby Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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