Monday, July 19, 2010

Ad"DRESS"ing a Question

I've been trying to come up with an idea for this blog, and Donna at JUST ME gave me one. She was writing of memories of watching her mother "dress" a chicken and, as a passing thought, wondered why taking the guts out of a chicken was known as "dressing". Well, let's just see, shall we?

First of all, I was rather surprised to see how many definitions there are for the word "dress." As a verb, there are around fifteen, as a noun there are four, and as an adjective there are two. There are also at least three ways to use the word as a phrasal verb, and one use of it as an idiom, according to one dictionary.

In our query here, we are dealing with the word "dress" as a verb, meaning "to clean for cooking or sale", as one would do a chicken, a deer, a turkey. (A closely related usage would be the verb definition meaning "to garnish".)

The word "dress" is so common to our everyday language that it is interesting to realize that it hasn't always referred to an article of attire. My OED gives the earliest recorded use of the word "dress" as 14th century. There are three definitions from that century. One, the obsolete one, is "make or put straight or right". The second -- now get this -- is "prepare, treat (later, in a specific way)". So when we say we are dressing a joint of beef, or field dressing a deer, or dressing a chicken, we are using the oldest recorded definition of the word "dress".

Interesting, eh?

And in case you're wondering, the third meaning from the 14th century is "array, equip, attire". From the 18th century we have "line up (troops)", and from the 17th century we get the meaning "personal attire" from William Shakespeare.

The earliest noun sense of the word was "speech, talk", and comes from the 15th century. That sense comes from a verb sense (Latin dirigere), meaning "to direct" (addressing or directing words to other people).