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Derring Do

Posted by Smokey Stover on October 30, 2008 at 03:21

In Reply to: Derring Do posted by Victoria S Dennis on October 29, 2008 at 20:08:

: : Re the query about derring do [or deering do etc.] I think this actually comes from the Welsh [though it may have come through Chaucer as someone suggested]. The Welsh for Blackbird is Deryn Du, blackbirds are cocky and self assured, one might almost say brave and fearless, and this name may thus have become associated with a brave or reckless deed, since English has borrowed from elsewhere throughout its development.

: I'm afraid that if you wish to assert this solution, you also have to solve a number of inconvenient problems, such as:
: - As you yourself admit, the blackbird is not heroic, merely "cocky". You do not claim to know that it has ever been "associated with a brave or reckless deed", either in Welsh or English folklore; you just suggest that perhaps it might. (As it happens, in English folklore the bird is associated with a number of things - bad luck, marriage, and sex in general, but has no particular reputation for courage.)
: - While it is of course true that English "has borrowed from elsewhere throughout its development", the contribution of Welsh to that development is staggeringly *small*; "flannel", "coracle", "corgi", and maybe half a dozen more. It has been said that Australian Aboriginal words are more numerous in English than Welsh ones.
: - So, if it were an obscure Welsh word,why would Chaucer, a Londoner with no connection to Wales, use it in his "Troylus and Criseyde" with the clear meaning "daring to do?"
: - and why would Spenser, another Londoner with no connection to Wales, use "derring doers" to mean "doers of daring [deeds]?

: Sorry, if you're going to challenge the Oxford English Dictionary, you're going to have to work harder than that! (VSD)

To see a little more of the story, go to:


Bob has reported much of what the OED says about this confection, including the fact that it is a "pseudo-archaism." I imagine there aren't too many of those around, but obviously there are some.

I was watching "Do You Want to be a Millionaire?" an American quiz show (I may have the title wrong), and one of the contestants, asked what he would do with the money, said he would buy the OED. Wow! I hope he knows that you can rent it, so to speak, by subscribing to the OED Online, which has some advantages. You don't need to build an addition to your house; you can stop any time you want; and it has continuous updates. Or you can go to any British library or large American library and see what it says gratis. It's fairly easy to use if you don't mind abbreviations up the wazoo.

I found the lore on blackbirds interesting, but both Brits and Yanks should know that the North American species of blackbird (the red-winged blackbird) is not the same as what the British call a blackbird, and does not share the mythic associations which Victoria has mentioned (so far as I know), although it, too, is a cheery bird, or at least sounds like one.

I need to mention a rather nice old love-song (from 1861) beginning, "As the blackbird in the spring, 'Neath the willow tree, Sat and piped I heard him sing, Singing Aura Lee. . . ." This was sung, with different words, by Elvis Presley, and badly, in my opinion.

Blackbirds particularly like marshes and wetlands, but can probably be seen under willow trees. For more on the song, see: