Pure D.

I’m back to reading Norwood (see this post), and I just ran across a sentence that made me happier than it had any right to: “It’s pure d. meanness is what is it.” (I’m not sure whether “what is it” is an error for “what it is,” which sounds far more natural to me, or whether it’s a regional form I’m not familiar with.) I had never seen or heard the term “pure d” except from my late friend Mike (thegrowlingwolf), a dyed-in-the-wool Texan who would say things like “That’s pure-d crazy”; the meaning was obvious and the sound of it irresistible, but I would never have dreamed of using it myself — it would have felt like swiping his boots. Naturally I wondered what the origin was, and how to spell it (I think Mike may have written “pure-dee” in his blog). Now seeing it there in print, with a period after the d., made me realize it must be short for “damn”: what a thrill! So of course I googled it, and found this Wordwizard page (I hadn’t known about Wordwizard) which investigates the question; Ken Greenwald cites the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE):

PUREDEE adjective, adverb. Also PURE-D, PURE DEE OLD, PURE O.D., PURE OLDEE, PURE-T [[all forms in lower case]] [Probably originally euphemism for pure damn(ed)] chiefly South and South Midland, U.S.: Genuine, real, just plain; very, really, completely.

<1938 “It’s the Pure D truth.”—Guide Mississippi FWP [[?? Field Worker Proposal]]

<1941 Texas “‘Them folks are mean out there,’ Mrs. Clampett said. ‘Just pure dee mean.’”—Hold Autumn by Perry, page 203 >

<1952 “Kip’s lip curled at this slovenly practice, one which he has always called purdee shif’less.” Ibid “You’re puredee heller.”—Home is Upriver by Harwin (Hench College), page 8 and 187>

<1953 Ozarks “Pure dee . . . Genuine, indubitable. ‘No, them ain’t no chigger bites. That’s the pure dee seven-year itch!’”—Down in the Holler by Randolph & Wilson, page 275>

<1958 central Texas “It’s pure-dee hog-hunting weather.”—Meskin Hound by Lathham, page 53>

<1964 North Carolina “He loafed about his office playing patience in a white uniform and pure-T bare feet, which scared all his patients away.”—If Morning Ever Comes by Tyler, page 44>

<1968 Louisiana “ A dull and stupid person, Pure-d dumb”—DARE Question HH3, Louisiana informant 35>

<1970 Texas “Elliott . . . found a pair of nearly new overalls . . . dry socks and one of his father’s gray work shirts. ‘Lordy, lordy. You wouldn’t know me from a pure-dee old scissorbill, Grady said wryly with satisfaction.”—Harper’s Magazine, April, page 80>

<1972 New York City [Black] “So this one day Miss Moore rounds us all up at the mailbox and it’s PUREDEE hot and she’s knockin herself out about arithmetic.”—in Calling the Wind (1973) by Major, page 348>

<1982 Indiana “I have heard pure D. in Southern Indiana used as what seemed to me to be a negative intensifier—it almost always precedes a negative word, nonsense, mean, ornery, etc.; Mississippi “During my youth, I often heard the usage in question, always, or nearly always—as pure oldee; Louisiana “Around 1950, I heard and used the phrase ‘pure D. It was used pejoratively (e.g., in response to a tall story, ‘That’s a load of pure D horse shit!’)”; central eastern Texas “In this part of Texas, as well as in the Houston area where I grew up, we said ‘pure O.D. __________,’ but pure dee old (something).”—Newsletter of the American Dialect Society Letters>

<1986 central west Florida “Pure D hell—unqualified hell; they give you pure D hell; pure D plumb nasty—extremely nasty; central west Arkansas they give you Pure D old belly—just plain belly”—Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States Concordance>

<1995 “‘That catfish was puredee good.’ Pure D(amn) good.”—Signal Magazine, December>

Then I checked Jonathon Green, and for maybe the first time was disappointed: not only do his citations not go back before 1953, but he suggests d might be “short for dandy.” Damn, Jonathon, get serious! “Dandy” my ass.


  1. Unless “dandy” is a mishearing of “damn d.”

  2. I would guess it stood for “pretty damn”, as in “It’s pretty damn hot today”. With the “damn” part reduced to a single letter for politeness.

  3. As I said in the post.

  4. FWP = Federal Writers Project

  5. Norwood is so great.

  6. I went to OED and looked up D. Apparently there used to be expression jolly d.[ecent]. Also D.A. with the meaning of duck arse haircut. Next time you are being prosecuted don’t fail to mention it to your D.A. My nickname (D.O.) used to be a designation of District Officer, some sort of colonial official (which I am not, together from not being any sort of Doctor of O-logy/pathy).

    Ah, yes, almost forgot. I went there to research on “big D” which captain Corcoran “hardly ever” uses and find out whether Gilbert invented this term or it was a common Victorian cutesy. But didn’t.

  7. AJP Crown says:

    there used to be expression jolly d.[ecent]
    My mother occasionally uses it still. My grandmother (d.1964) and my great aunt (d. 2001) certainly did. My point is that it’s extremely English. You’d never hear it in Texas.

  8. PlasticPaddy says:

    My favorite D.O is Alban in Maugham’s “The door of opportunity”…

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    Members of my family even older than I also say “jolly d.” on occasion.

    The canonical deniable acronym in the UK is the traditional criminal’s knuckle tattoo ACAB.
    The Wikipedia article surprises me by revealing that we have successfully exported the symbol to Europe and beyond; I will bear that in mind when I am next in Belarus.

    However, it unaccountably lacks the traditional criminal’s explanation that the letters really stand for “Always Carry A Bible.”

  10. “jolly d.” is an example of an English construction where you replace the second word in a phrase with its first letter. Mostly used by the middle and upper classes, I think. Such as “the aged P.” for the aged parent. I believe that was in Great Expectations. But my parents used to use it occasionally, and my grandfather more so.

    Not, I believe, related to “purdy damn hot” as used in Texas, even though many Texas cattle ranches were owned by British aristocrats back in the old days.

  11. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    there used to be expression jolly d.[ecent]
    My mother occasionally uses it still. My grandmother (d.1964) and my great aunt (d. 2001) certainly did. My point is that it’s extremely English. You’d never hear it in Texas.

    It must be at least 40 years since I last heard it, but it was a common everyday expression when I were a lad.

  12. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the ‘purdy nice’ ‘purty good’ [per d] that I used to hear years ago. All with a positive meaning.

  13. Well, because it’s not really relevant. There’s no way to get “pure” out of “pur(dy).”

  14. “Jolly d.” sounds to me like something Bertie Wooster would say. However, when I Googled “jolly d. Jeeves and Wooster,” I only discovered the existence of Jeeves/Wooster slashfic. Yikes!—Caveat lector, indeed.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    Rule 34c: even if you can’t think of it, there’s porn of it on the Internet…

  16. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Never doubt that there is slashfic for *anything*.

  17. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Hah, David M really is a great mind, so I can feel proud of thinking alike 😉

  18. David Marjanović says:


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