Today’s dictionary.com word of the day is dundrearies. It originated around 1860-65, thanks to “Lord Dundreary, a character in the play, “Our American Cousin”. Officially, it is defined as “long, full sideburns or muttonchop whiskers”.
We create all sorts of words based on the quirks or memorable attributes of the certain people. There is a word for it. They are called Eponyms, ‘words based on a person’s name’. The cool thing about Eponyms is the history behind the word. Some eponyms you might recognize are: boycott, guillotine, sandwich, hooligan, gerrymander, adonis, braille, dunce, jacuzzi, judas, casanova, paparazzi, ritz, and trumpster. Scientists, doctors and inventors are known to use eponyms regularly in ascribing ownership of their handiwork.
But back to our word today, dundrearies, and it’s most interesting history. As already established, the word is attributed to one ‘Lord Dundreary’ from the three-act play, “Our American Cousin”. The play was written by English playwright, Tom Taylor in 1858 and premiered at the Laura Keene’s Theatre in New York City on October 15, 1858. It was fairly popular for several years, but it was its fateful run at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, and specifically its showing on April 14, 1865 that etched it into American history. “Our American Cousin”, you see, was the play that President Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated by actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.
According to Wikipedia, the cast modified a line of the play in honor of Abraham Lincoln: when the heroine asked for a seat protected from the draft, the reply – scripted as, “Well, you’re not the only one that wants to escape the draft” – was delivered instead as, “The draft has already been stopped by order of the President!”
“Halfway through Act III, Scene 2, when the character of Asa Trenchard, played that night by Harry Hawk, uttered this line, considered one of the play’s funniest, to Mrs. Mountchessington: “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap.”
It was during the ensuing laughter that President Lincoln laughed his last and the play ended abruptly. While Wilkes Booth was not a cast member of the play, he used the chose this moment when the laughter was at its height to muffle the sound of his gun.
I don’t believe that the word, dundrearies has anything to do with this interesting sidebar. It has more to do with the popularity of the play and the first actor Edward Sothern who brilliantly played the part of ‘Lord Dundreary’. I do find it fascinating though, how history and words and our experiences are all seem to be an intricate and interconnected web. We are all interconnected for that matter, I believe, by 6 degrees or less.
Have a great weekend. Here’s a haiku.
once touted as all the rage
are now thought unkempt