Dee and Don.

Courtesy of bulbul, this historico-linguistic story by Albert Galea:

Maltese is known for its expressions and synonyms, and perhaps one of the best known of these is the saying ‘qishom id-di u d-do’. It is an expression which in reality has no direct translation, but which is used to refer to two people who are always seen together.

The origin of this expression is an unlikely source: two British gunboats built in the nineteenth century which spent much of their lives moored next to each other in Kalkara Creek. HMS Dee and HMS Don were both Medina-class gunboats, being two out of 12 such ships which were built by the Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company between 1876 and 1877. The two ships were launched within 10 days of other – the Dee was launched on 4 April 1877 and the Don on 14 April of the same year. […]

Visit the link for further details; here’s a bit from a passage on Henry Casingena, who enlisted with the Royal Navy in 1882:

Also interesting to note is the variety of spelling inputted by the British for the surname Casingena: it is written as ‘Casincena’, ‘Casencena’, ‘Caningena’, and ‘Cancencena’ on different occasions. This befuddlement at how to spell Maltese surnames on the part of the British is not uncommon, and can be observed on war records from the time.

And for lagniappe, an unexpected etymology I recently learned: proxy is a contraction of procuracy.


  1. “Proctor” similarly is a contraction of “procurator”.

  2. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The Dee and the Don are the two rivers of Aberdeen, so the boats might always have been intended as a pair.

  3. In a similar vein to Casingena, I’ve become interested in the endangered Poweshiek skipperling butterfly, Oarisma Poweshiek, named for a leader of the Meskwaki, via an Iowa county bearing his name, which means one who shakes the water off, or roused bear. (Weird. Why didn’t they just call it the brown thing?)

    It’s difficult to track down early sightings because of changing genera, and variations and misspellings of the specific epithet. I think I found one sighting unlisted in the species inventory, which may add Illinois to the range of O. Poweshiek, from a recently crowd-transcribed listing of a Smithsonian collection, where it’s written Thymelicus Powesheik. Poweschiek and Powescheik were also used.

  4. My favorite thing about Maltese English are the omnipresent little words – I guess you’d call them discourse markers – borrowed from Maltese, especially “ta” and “uxe” (meaning roughly “you know?” and “right”. Something about them gives the English language a sense of rhythm and a kind of looseness, it’s really lovely to hear, uxe?

  5. To be fair to the British, Maltese orthography was a mess from its first appearance in 1470 (at which point it is clearly an Arabic colloquial) until 1924, when it finally got standardized for the first time. And since English orthography is and continues to be a mess even if a standardized mess, it’s not surprising that there were endless collisions between the two. The British couldn’t get it right at least partly because there was no “right”.

  6. spelling inputted by the British
    I don’t care how many dictionaries it’s slithered into, anyone worried about befuddlement ought not to use an abomination like inputted.

  7. Stu Clayton says

    Life is much easier when abominations are avoided. It makes for fewer discussions and raised eyebrows.

  8. “inputted” is fine but to me it means specifically “entered via computer”, so I would not use it to describe entries in Royal Navy documents from the 19th century (I’d go with recorded).

  9. It’s worrisome to see inputs abominated

  10. I thought they were abanamated. Or am I in the wrong thread now?

  11. David Marjanović says

    Speaking of abominations – species names are always in lowercase, even that of the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier.

  12. I instantly thought of Tweedledon and Tweedledee.

  13. Stu Clayton says

    Is there any connection between this “uxe” and the Hungarian ugye ?

  14. Jen in Edinburgh says

    The twelve boats were Medina, Medway, Sabrina (i.e. the river Severn), Spey, Tay, Tees, Dee, Don, Esk, Slaney, Trent and Tweed.

    Medina was launched first, the next three two months later, and the rest in pairs over the next year, but Dee and Don seem to be the only geographical as well as alliterative pair.

    (Slaney and Esk are an odd pair – there had been an HMS Shannon for a long time, but other possible ‘E’ names – Ettrick, Eden, Exe – seem to have waited for the River-class destoyers 30 years later.)

  15. Marquess of bath: I instantly thought of Tweedledon and Tweedledee.

    I thought of Phil and Don.

    Jen’s Sabrina-Severn thing was a bit of a mystery to me. “Hafren is the Welsh goddess of the river Severn and her Latin name is Sabrina,” I google. It turns out, according to the Wikipedia ‘River Severn’ etymology paragraph:

    The name Severn is thought to derive from a Celtic original name *sabrinnā, of uncertain meaning,[6] possibly from *samarina, “land of summer fallow”.[7] That name then developed in different languages to become Sabrina to the Romans, Hafren in Welsh, and Severn in English. A folk etymology later developed, deriving the name from a mythical story of a nymph, Sabrina, who drowned in the river.[8] Sabrina is also the goddess of the River Severn in Celtic mythology. The story of Sabrina is featured in Milton’s 1634 masque Comus…

  16. Lars Mathiesen says

    Esk starts with S, innit?

  17. Craig: “Proctor” similarly is a contraction of “procurator”
    I accept it’s from a contraction rather than a prefix but still, how on earth did anyone get away with calling officials proctors in the 19C, when procto- is from Greek πρωκτός (prōktós, “anus”)?

  18. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    When I was at Shrewsbury, the Old Salopian Boat Club was called the Sabrina Boat Club, with the stress where you’d expect, on the i. However, at that time Sabrina was a prominent actress (prominent in more ways than one), one of various British Marilyn Monroes. As this was considered embarrassing the stress for the boat club was moved to the first syllable. (I expect that it has long since returned to its natural place.) About the only things that Sabrina had in common with Marilyn Monroe were a very large chest and the same first name, Norma.

    As for proctors, anyone who has consulted a proctologist will be able to guess what πρωκτός means.

  19. Stu Clayton says

    Procter & Gamble has not succumbed to derision. People who wash dishes don’t often have Greek or Latin, I suspect.

  20. Marilyn Novak had to change her first name to Kim when she went to Hollywood. The studio executives said that if she was supposed to be Columbia Pictures’ answer to Marilyn Monroe, having the same first name would be too on the nose. Novak was unhappy about that, but she accepted the change; however, she refused to change her last name to something less ethnic.

  21. People who wash dishes don’t often have Greek or Latin, I suspect.
    George Orwell being one exception.

    When I was at Shrewsbury,
    Did you know John Peel aka Ravenscroft? I’m thinking you’re too young for the Private Eye lot.

  22. Medina

    How is this pronounced? I’m guessing me-DINE-a, like most US places with that name, but Wikipedia refuses to tell me (and the river is too insignificant to be included in my geographical/pronouncing dictionaries).

  23. Lynneguist tells a little story about the mutual squeamishness of American and Commonwealth academics about the synonyms invigilator and proctor ‘university examination supervisor’ respectively.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    I was employed as a dishwasher one summer in my teens, at which point I had already had a few years of Latin but had not yet commenced the study of Greek. So half credit?

  25. Kate Bunting says

    I’m not local to the area, but I’ve heard it pronounced Me-DEEN-a.

  26. Thanks!

  27. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Did you know John Peel aka Ravenscroft? I’m thinking you’re too young for the Private Eye lot.

    I didn’t know him, but I knew his brother, who was my age and we had some classes in common. As for Private Eye, I was only just too young: Paul Foot departed at the time I arrived, and I think Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton and Christopher Booker probably left at about the same time. These last four were very well known, but I don’t remember that the older Ravenscroft was ever mentioned. I knew he existed, because I knew from the school list that the Ravenscroft that I knew had an elder brother.

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    I were a teenage sewage worker with A-Level Greek. We used to dream of being paid to wash dishes, us lads wi’ t’ Classical Greek. Course we ‘ad it ‘ard.

  29. John Cowan says

    Procter was a candlemaker from England, whereas Gamble was a soapmaker from Ireland. Not that I think we can conclude very much from this.

  30. I don’t remember that the older Ravenscroft was ever mentioned
    I can’t see John Peel as a prefect, rowing in the First VIII or winning a scholarship anywhere. That was part of what I – perhaps we – liked about him.

    Procter was a candlemaker … Not that I think we can conclude very much
    I’d have said the same, but then I read in the Guardian about Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest sales gimmick.

  31. How is this pronounced? I’m guessing me-DINE-a, like most US places with that name

    Medina County Sheriff should be a Hashemite.

  32. True!

  33. David Eddyshaw says

    According to Wikipedia, Medina County is a “Republican stronghold”, so I expect they would prefer a Yosemite.

  34. Trond Engen says

    Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest sales gimmick

    In Norway this story has been overshadowed by the implications of the local government reform, especially the coat of arms of the enlarged kommune of Vulv…, sorry Volda.

  35. Stu Clayton says

    I saw Troll Hunter !

  36. The list of Medina County (Ohio) Sheriffs may possibly have a Shemite or two disguised behind a WASPy name. This county is directly named after the city in Saudi Arabia, and uses the PRICE vowel as expected. The one in Texas is the one with the river.

  37. January First-of-May says

    I instantly thought of Tweedledon and Tweedledee.

    I didn’t really get to think of anything before I got to the line saying that they were ships, at which point I immediately thought of the Don and Magdalena from Kipling I’ve never sailed the Amazon (with their utterly implausible schedule).

    As it happens, the fourth (in my search, at least) Google result for “Don and Magdalena” (without quotes) is a Wikipedia article about a certain RMS Magdalena that did indeed serve the Southampton-Brazil route (between 1889 and 1905) – though it does not mention any plausible candidates for the Don.

    [EDIT: some googling tells me that there was a RMS Don, built in 1872 as the SS Corcovado and renamed in 1875. I wasn’t yet able to figure out what happened to it later. There were, of course, many other ships on that route.]

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