Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Dingbat

Every once in a while I am taken by surprise by a word or phrase that has MANY more interpretations/definitions that I expected.

Such is dingbat.
First up: Americanisms, Old and New by John Stephen Farmer (1889), has this to say:
ding-bat—This word seems to be applied to anything that can be thrown with force or dashed violently at another object, from a cannon-ball to the rough's traditional 'arf brick, and from a piece of money to a log of wood. From the Icelandic dengia, to beat.
 Then, we have this, from the Online Etymology Dictionary
dingbat (n.)—1838, American English, apparently originally the name of some kind of alcoholic drink, of unknown origin. It has joined that class of words (such as dingus, doohickey, gadget, gizmo, thingumabob) which are conjured up to supply names for items whose proper names are unknown or not recollected. Used at various periods for "money," "a professional tramp," "a muffin," "male genitalia," "a Chinese," "an Italian," "a woman who is neither your sister nor your mother," and "a foolish person in authority." Popularized in sense of "foolish person" by U.S. TV show "All in the Family" (1971–79), though this usage dates from 1905. In typography, by 1912 as a printer's term for ornament used in headline or with illustrations.
Google goes for contemporary, defining dingbat as "(1) a stupid or eccentric person; (2) a typographical device other than a letter or numeral (such as an asterisk), used to signal divisions in text or to replace letters in a euphemistically presented vulgar word." For origins, it adds the following:
mid 19th century (in early use applied to various vaguely specified objects): origin uncertain; perhaps based on obsolete ding ‘to beat, deal heavy blows.’ Sense 1 dates from the early 20th century.
So we're back to the Americanisms definition... as well as a variety of confusing possibilities!

But wait! There's MORE!

In the December 25, 1895, issue of Daily True American, there is a lighthearted article about slang, in which dingbat is used by one young fellow from Yale to describe "one of the prettiest girls I ever saw." (See my screen capture below. You may need to enlarge it or just go directly to this link to the article, which also offers up some other mindboggling slang such as seamuljugating and coostering.

There's a dingbat for you!
Finally, if you want to go completely (ding)batty... take a look at Green's Dictionary of Slang, which has an entire page-plus including the definition "a term of admiration" (from 1895, which lines up nicely with the article above).
More dingbats!!

All in all, way more definitions you can beat with a stick... or a bat.

Thank you, Banksy, for bringing us back to the origin of dingbat.
Graffiti by Banksy, rat with baseball bat, Kentish Town, London. (By Justinc [CC BY-SA 2.0  (], from Wikimedia Commons)


Liz V. said...

I had forgotten Archie. The news clipping is priceless.

Your posts are so entertaining, I now find myself drawn to all sorts of articles about words. The other day, BBC online had an article about words taken from The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities by Paul Anthony Jones, and the Word Wenches blog yesterday was about collective nouns in Prioress Juliana Berners' book and elsewhere. My favorite was "bloat of hippos".

Unknown said...

Thank you for this; it's delightful. I'm wondering at the slang being formed as we speak – will "trump" take on new meaning? "Don't tell a huckabee?"

Ann Parker said...

Hi Liz! I’m happy that you, too, are enjoying the odd turn of phrase and words in general. Language is such fun... and there’s so much to explore! :-)

Ann Parker said...

Hello H.J. ... and welcome! :-)
I find myself wondering that too... The thing is, we never know what slang/current-day idioms will take root and what will wither and die. There are some great idioms (none of which come to mind this instant, of course), referencing politics/politicians in previous centuries which are now completely opaque to us. Hmmm. I’ll have to go do a little research!