Thursday, 9 April 2015

Dismal - 'Evil Days'

View, Dismal Swamp, North Carolina (1850)
Painting by Régis François Gignoux

DISMAL

Noun. Late Middle English.
[Anglo-Norman dis mal from medival Latin dies mali evil days.]

1 The 24 evil or unlucky days (2 in each month) in the medieval calendar;
generally evil days; the time of old age. Only in ME

2 obsolete. The Devil. L15-L16

3a obsolete. A funeral mute. Only in E18

3b In plural. Mourning garments. M-L18

4 One of the dreary tracts of swampy land on the eastern seaboard of the US. E18

5 the dismals, low spirits, the 'dumps'. M18

5(b) In plural. Depressing circumstances, miseries. E19

Photo by Michael Lehenbauer

DISMAL

Adjective. Late Middle English. 
[from DISMAL noun.]

1 Designating each of the 24 evil or unlucky days of the medieval calendar. obsolete except Historical. LME

2 obsolete. generally. Boding or bringing misfortune and disaster; malign. L16-M17

3 Of the nature of misfortune or disaster; calamitous. Now rare. L16

4 Originally causing dismay, dreadful.
Now, causing gloom, depressing;
sombre, dreary, cheerless. L16

5 Exhibiting or expressing gloom. E18

6 Feeble; inept. colloquial. M20

Zounds! What is this misapprehension I've been labouring under? All of my life, I was aware of only one unlucky day - Friday 13th - but now, if medieval mystics are to be trusted (and of course they are), I learn that there are actually twenty-four! What madness have I been engaging in on these inauspicious dates? So you too do not play fast and loose with these dismal days, they are:

January 1st
January 25th
February 4th
February 26th
March 1st
March 28th
April 10th
April 20th
May 3rd
May 25th
June 10th
June 16th
July 13th
July 22nd
August 1st
August 30th
September 3rd
September 21st
October 3rd
October 22nd
November 5th
November 28th
December 7th
December 22nd

That's quite a catalogue of bad luck right there, so be sure to check this list against any planned bungee jumps, tightrope walks or marriage proposals. The word dismal arrives in English ultimately from the Latin dies mali, meaning 'evil days', although its meaning has changed somewhat over the centuries as can be seen from the different definitions. It's of note, too, that the mystics of the Middle Ages only seemed concerned with dates, not days of the week, and there is only one 13th in that list of dismal days - quite what happens when the cosmic forces of misfortune combine to make July 13th a Friday is anyone's guess. Quite frankly, I wouldn't dare get out of bed ...

Do please leave your most fortuitous comments in the box below.

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