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High dudgeon

Q From L Crary Myers: I have seen others attempt to answer this, but apparently maddeningly little is known. You always seem to manage to find something interesting, however — so, here is the question: from whence the phrase in high dudgeon? Thank you, and I am an avid fan of your site.

A “Maddeningly little is known” is unfortunately a fair summary. I’ll try to add a little more, but it is one of a distressingly large group of words for which we have no idea of their origins. The group includes a couple of others also ending in -udgeon: bludgeon and curmudgeon.

Dudgeon means a state of anger, resentment, or offence and often turns up as in dudgeon or in high dudgeon The Oxford English Dictionary can’t give its source, though it’s sure it’s not from the Welsh word dygen, meaning malice or resentment, which has been suggested in the past. It does point to endugine, a word recorded just once, in 1638, with the same sense, which might have given us a clue, but doesn’t help at all.

It also records another sense of the word, itself mysterious, for a kind of wood used by turners, especially the handles of knives or daggers. It has been suggested it was another name for boxwood. It appears in Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “I see thee still, / And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, / Which was not so before.” Later the word was used for a dagger whose handle was made of this wood.

It just might be that a state of anger or resentment could have led to the grabbing of a dudgeon knife with intent to redress a slight, but there’s no evidence whatever of the connection.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 28 Oct. 2006

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Last modified: 28 October 2006.