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shameless pleading

Bound to / Niggle / Dree one’s weird

And don’t even think about pulling out your coupons.

Dear Word Detective:  This is one of those expressions we use so often it only just occurred to me to wonder how it developed. We can bind something, and something can be bound to something (like with twine). But how is something “bound” to happen, or “bound” to be? Tied to the fate of that eventuality? Sorry if this seems so obvious, but it’s been niggling at at me in the background since it came up. Ooh, how about “niggle”? Oh by the way, reading Terry Pratchett’s latest book, I came upon “dree (one’s) weird,” which I was able to look up, and think we should reintroduce into everyday discourse. Oh the possibilities! — Margaret Lethbridge-Cejku.

Uh, that’s three different words you’ve got there. No problemo, of course, but it reminded me of one of the strange things I noticed when we moved from New York City to Ohio. Out here, folks seem weirdly tolerant of people who join the “ten items or fewer” lane at the supermarket with 47 items in their cart. People behind them might mutter a bit, but it’s all very restrained. If they tried that kind of nonsense in a New York City supermarket, they’d be limping home with yogurt in their hair.

Your question about “bound” is a good one. There are actually four separate “bounds” in English, only one of which is directly related to the common verb “to bind,” meaning “to make secure, restrict, etc.” This “bound,” the past participle of “bind,” carries the figurative sense of “compelled or obliged” (“bound by his promise”) as well as “determined” (“bound to succeed”) and “fated, destined” (“bound to lose all his money in a silly scheme”). This is the “bound to happen or to be” sense in your question. In Old English, this word was “bunden,” which lives on in the somewhat antiquated phrase “bounden duty.”

The slightly older “bound” meaning “prepared to go” or “going,” as in “bound for college,” etc., comes from the Old Norse word “buinn,” which meant “to get ready.” Although this “bound” and the “destined” “bound” above are etymologically separate, there is some overlap, and it’s not easy to tell which “bound” is at work in phrases such as “We are bound to win.”

As for the two other “bounds,” things get a bit simpler. “Bound” meaning “limit” (as in “out of bounds”) comes from the Latin “bodina,” as does “boundary.” “Bound” as a verb meaning “to leap” comes ultimately from the Old French “bondir,” meaning “echo or rebound.”

The origin of to “niggle,” meaning “to be fussy, stingy” or, in the sense you used it, “to annoy, gnaw at,” first appeared in the 16th century, but its origin is unknown. A “niggling” thought, worry or doubt is not a major one, but one just annoying enough to drive you a bit crazy.

“To dree one’s weird” is indeed a great phrase. “Dree” is a very old word found mostly in Northern England and Scotland today meaning “to perform” or “to endure, to submit to.”  Although we use “weird” today primarily as an adjective meaning “strange or uncanny,” it was originally a noun meaning “fate or destiny,” or, in a personified sense, the three Fates themselves (who appear as the “weird sisters” in Shakespeare’s Macbeth). Thus “to dree one’s weird” means to endure one’s fate or submit to one’s destiny, and the phrase dates back to at least the 14th century.

1 comment to Bound to / Niggle / Dree one’s weird

  • Mike Ross

    Having googled “Dree Weird” I was delighted to find your site giving such a comprehensive response. As one normally considers Americans as having only a partial knowledge of the English language and little of our spelling it was a particularly pleasant surprise.

    Do please feel free to reply to this in a similarly nationalistic/insulting/satirycal manner.

    Seriously, I liked your entry. Thanks.

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