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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, November 16, 2012

The dismal days

If by some bizarre circumstance you were thinking of going in for some bloodletting tomorrow, you might want to hold off, because November 17th was, according to some medieval writers, one of the “dies mali” (“bad days” in Latin), two days every month particularly unsuited for this medical intervention. In English, these 24 unlucky days were called collectively “the dismal”, but by the 1400s, people started to call them, with unwitting redundancy, “the dismal days”, and thus “dismal” became an adjective meaning first “unlucky”, but eventually “gloomy and depressing”, a good description for most November days.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.