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Pronounced /ˈdɪːz(ə)l/Help with pronunciation

It means to move righthandwards, in the direction of the sun, clockwise. It now mainly conjures up associations with witchcraft, as it’s the much rarer converse of widdershins.

Trying to define it unambiguously immediately runs into the fundamental problem of how to explain the difference between left and right (clockwise is fine, unless you only know about digital clocks, or you’re one of those jokers who has one that runs backwards; sunwise works in the northern hemisphere only; just try explaining to an alien visitor which is right and which left, using words only).

In immediate origin deasil is a Gaelic word that derives from the same root as the Latin dexter, “right, right-handed” which even then could mean “skilful” (hence our word dextrous). In witchcraft, including modern Wicca, to move deasil is to invoke positive qualities.

As an example of its associations, here is Sir Walter Scott, in Chronicles of the Canongate: “In the meantime, she traced around him, with wavering steps, the propitiation, which some have thought has been derived from the Druidical mythology. It consists, as is well known, in the person who makes the DEASIL walking three times round the person who is the object of the ceremony, taking care to move according to the course of the sun”.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 30 Jan. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-dea1.htm
Last modified: 30 January 1999.