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


  19. Robbie Smith says

    Pure D…… is short for pure DAMN.
    Pure as in unmitigated, undiluted…..pure.

    This was used at a time when gentle folk, not to be crude, wouldn’t use the word ‘damn’ in mixed company. I know this to be true as my Mother is 94, my Aunt is 101, and my two grandmothers lived to 95. My Father was born in 1914 and he passed long ago. They are all Texans…

    Not to be confused with the word perty….or purty…which are colloquial and old time Texas for the word pretty. Totally different from the meaning of Pure D.

    I have great cowboy friends from Arizona and Montana who also say perty and purty when describing horses, cattle, and women. Of those pretty women, they might also say she was Pure D mean!

  20. Damn tootin’, and congratulations on the longevity of your family!

  21. John Cowan says

    “Moving Apart”, a not-very-explicit continent fic. The main character is Australia. Money quotes (and it was really, really hard not to quote the whole thing):

    “All the other continents said Antarctica was a frigid bitch, but Australia remembered the good old days.”

    “New Zealand also said that Australia had given him possums, which was incredibly rude and completely beside the point, even if it was true.”

  22. David Marjanović says

    Slander! Tasmania has never tried to break away.

  23. Trond Engen says

    Robbie’s explanation of “pure D” reminds me of Norwegian pur F, short for “pur faen”. Han gjorde det på pur F “He did it for sheer obstinant malignancy.” That would normally mean that the Norwegian expression is a calque, but in this case I can’t see a clear path.

  24. John Cowan says

    Probably not, unlike the wandering but quite plausible path from the Pamlico River in North Carolina to Pimlico in London.

  25. An English monosyllable that I think of when seeing “obstinate malignancy” is “spite”. Yes? No?

  26. Lars Mathiesen says

    Also Pimlico Path in another thread.

  27. Trond Engen says

    “spite”. Yes? No?

    Yes and no. It can be spite, but it can also be malignancy without any contrarianism — say, unscrewing the lightbulbs in the corridor or pouring water on a freezing staircase. It’s the main motivation of a Bart Simpson.

  28. PlasticPaddy says

    spite = malignant obstinacy = Norw. tross/trass (cognate with German Trotz)
    faen = lit. devilment (but the English word has lost its force) so nastiness is better
    Maybe Trond can advise.

  29. faen = lit. devilment (but the English word has lost its force)

    Or maybe “deviltry”? Or “devilry”?

  30. Nobody uses those words except writers deliberately being old-fashioned.

  31. They seem to me to be more common than “devilment”.

    Google ngrams indicates that while all 3 terms had a low between 1980 and 2000 and all three have had a resurgence after 2000. “Devilment” seems to trail, usually.

    Reprints of H. G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man” probably help keep devilry’s numbers up:

    “But what devilry must happen to make a man invisible?”
    “It’s no devilry. It’s a process, sane and intelligible enough—”

  32. They seem to me to be more common than “devilment”.

    Sure, but that’s saying very little. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them used.

  33. I mean, faen is an exceedingly common word in Norwegian speech, so I’m not sure how much of an equivalent a literary word in English could be.

  34. Trond Engen says

    Me: obstinant malignancy

    Maybe gratuitous evil. I have nothing to gain. Hell, I won’t even get a laugh out of it, but I’ll do it på pur F.

    Hat: I mean, faen is an exceedingly common word in Norwegian speech

    Yes. It takes the same role as fuck in English as a swiss-army-swearword and of hell as the word for inherent evil. So på pur F can also be translated “for the sheer hell of it”. Pur F is not-quite-a-euphemism for pur faen which is shortened (with somewhat dysphemic effect) from pur faenskap.

  35. The use of “Deviltry” in the title of the first Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser collection, seemed out of place among the more ordinary diction of the other titles: Swords Against Death, Swords in the Mist, Swords Against Wizardry, Swords and Ice Magic, etc. “Devilment,” of course, would have been even odder.

  36. David Marjanović says

    I have nothing to gain. Hell, I won’t even get a laugh out of it, but I’ll do it på pur F.

    For The Evulz.

  37. We’re used to wizardry now, but I bet that the folks who met it in the 1933 version of Tolkien’s “Errantry”[*] found it just as unusual[**] as deviltry/devilry

    [*] The lines are “And long he studied wizardry / and sigaldry and smithying”. Sigaldry is ‘sorcery’, marked “obsolete, rare” in OED1 (1910).

    [**] Except in the metaphorical sense ‘skill, expertise’.

  38. My disappointment with The Farthest Shore has already been recorded. However, I do remember being struck (although not necessarily in a good way) by a scene, relatively early on in the book, when Sparrowhawk is interviewing a former mage. The man seems incapable of saying “wizard” or “wizardry,” and stumbles trying to find a replacement for the latter; “spell casting” is the best he can do.

  39. I just read a character in a British novel say that something was “pure dead brilliant.” I immediately wondered about a possible connection between that expression and our “pure d” one. After all, my southern American grandmother used a few British expressions that clearly had been the Atlantic commute centuries earlier.

  40. David Marjanović says

    “Musk is at least 50% pure-dee bullsh•t, so he should get along just fine with Texas.”

    9 hours ago

  41. I haven’t read all of the comments but, being a child who grew up in backwoods Alabama during the 50’s and 60’s of the last century, “…pure o d” was as common as “OK” or ” ‘morning, Joe.” Except the audio was more like, “…pyoar oh dee” and, when I finally grew enough to see that it wasn’t commonly used in Uncle Sam’s Navy, I never used it again. But, again when I had grown up enough to think about it, I always assumed it was in relation to the “Olive Drab” source of the acronym, “OD”. That gets blown apart by the attribution provided in an earlier comment dating it from the 30s, though. It’s just another one of my thoughts that turn out to be ‘jess pyoar o d” wrong.

  42. Thanks for that — I always enjoy seeing fresh comments on this post!

  43. Thanks for the entertaining and enlightening discussion! I’m a Texan, and the whole reason I’m here is because my cousin who is from Oklahoma, had used the phrase pure-dee in a comment on another forum. I got curious as to where it came from and because of this discussion, I found out. And yes, we say it all the time. (I’m almost 60 so I don’t know about the kids)

  44. That’s great! One of my main joys in writing this blog is having people discover things like that.

  45. I was reading a New Yorker article about five people who still believe, even after DNA exoneration, that they committed a rape-and-murder which took place in a small town in Nebraska. This was one of those “recovered memory” cases, here applied not to witnesses but to defendants, by a psychologist who also served as a sheriff’s deputy. (The whole town still believes in their guilt, including the cops, even though the actual killer had died of AIDS while in prison for another crime. At most they rationalize it by saying their were two crimes, the murder by the six and then rape by the true killer.)

    The sixth defendant, who was convicted on the false testimony of the others, never believed it, requested pretrial DNA testing and was denied it, and told the cops that the idea that he was involved in the murder was “pure, deep bullshit”. I think the Nebraska cops must have misheard his Alabama accent and almost certainly weren’t familiar with pure D.

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