Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dwelving On Dwelve

The first time I heard someone say 'dwelve', a couple of years ago, my mind momentarily stopped following the conversation and circled around what to my ears was a new combination of syllables, like a hawk around a small furry animal before it disappears into its burrow. The individual who shall in my memory be eternally associated with that word (let's call him A) was senior to me in the firm I was working for at that time and anybody who knew him would be familiar with his tendency to mispronounce words (and then assert that it was the American pronunciation), combine words (not creativity -- ignorance!) and otherwise indulge freely and unabashedly in solecisms and malapropisms (some of which had me in splits). So I didn't pay much attention to this latest in his series of gauche utterances, letting it disappear into the black hole of A's discomfort with the language. And so the hawk in my head continued the futile search for meaty nuggets of sense and meaning in A's long monologue which mainly consisted of him marvelling at his own latest achievements.

Then I heard it again a few weeks later, from a business acquaintance. "Let's not dwelve on it ..." he said, referring to a mishap in the business we were transacting. The Prof. Higgins in me was alert again, and again, I chose to let it go since I didn't have a personal rapport with this guy, and acquaintances don't take too kindly to being corrected by someone who isn't their back-slapping beer buddy. But I did make a mental note of it and when I had some time to myself, looked up 'dwelve' in as many dictionaries as I could, just to be absolutely sure.

A few months ago a dear friend of ours (let's call her M) invited my wife and me to dinner and somewhere in the conversation over a bottle of Grey Goose the word 'dwelve' popped out of her mouth. This time I was not going to let it go. "There's no such word as dwelve" I said quietly, setting my empty glass down so she could pour me some more of that excellent vodka. M is a proud and successful businesswoman -- not one to let someone get an edge over her. But over the years M has learnt to recognize when a battle is not worth fighting. For a moment she stared at me, opening then closing her mouth a few times, and I could see her trying to decide whether to humbly acknowledge this fact or to challenge it, with her characteristic bravura. "There isn't?" she said finally, with that lost child look. "No." I said, "It could be an interesting portmanteau word combining dwell and delve, trying to establish a certain level of currency for itself, but as of now it doesn't exist except in the ersatz lexicon of fast-talking fast-thinking overachieving platinum carders, who through a series of etymological mutations coin such words and phrases that then go forth and multiply like viruses and become common parlance". And then, having run out of breath, went on to enjoy more of her hospitality.

The other day another business contact of mine (let's call her U) used the dreadful word. Now U is very different from A and M: she is not your Type A/ alpha prime/ chest-thumping bull ape. U is convivial even if (and when) she is not on top of things. She is an open, friendly person with a disarming smile and not at all your cutting edge corporate type (though she has a fairly senior position in a large global bank). When someone like U starts using a word of dubious coinage, you know that it has won, in spite of the Hemant Puthlis of this world who tried quite hard to abort its birth. I came away from my meeting with U with a sense of defeat. I realized that its only a matter of time before this wretched non-word finds its way into the dictionary.

So, prudent as I tend to be in such matters, I've decided not to dwelve on it. Notwithstanding this blog entry, of course.


Sinfully Pinstripe said...

Am not much of a supporter of the curious phenomenon of passing everything under the name of Indian English either, and what the heck, 'dwelve' even sounds grotesque... rather nice to see the red underline beneath the word here. MSWord certainly knows its words from non-words.
But know what, just last year, Oxford English Dictionary added 'prepone' to the official English lexicon. Probably the Brits have yet to figure out the art of moving things forward...


Ankur said...

My mom is such a goof. She actually went through this entire post, and at the end, turned to me and said, "Dwelve isn't a word?" Naturally, I had no choice but to go out immediately and purchase a newly updated copy of the Oxford English Dictionary.

HyperActiveX said...

And did you find it? The word I mean, not the dictionary.

:) Kidding of course!

Nice to meet you, Ankur .. albeit through a comment on my blog post.

Anonymous said...

Dwelve is the number that comes after duhleven.

Anonymous said...

I heard a Swedish consultant use the word today. I thought "dwelling, yet simultaneously exploring a subject" hmmm, can't be a word.

Then I searched and saw this post. I thought it was a good word and I will be using it a lot! Should be in the OED soon.


Man said...

all my life iv known and used dwelve as a word. The site has its definition in the index page.


HyperActiveX said...

Man, thanks for your comment and for sharing your insights.

Show me a widely accepted English dictionary with the word in it and I will accept your argument. And I don't mean dictionaries like the "Urban Dictionary" or the "Online Slang Dictionary" or some such.


7afsa3in said...

I have no idea how this site works. Just found it by searching "dwelving on dwelve" because I was wondering the same thing, and I couldn't be more satisfied.
I knew it was incorrect when people would say it (as you pointed out, dwell and delve together), and I wanted to prove it for the hell of it.
But I guess I found more than the explanation I was looking for.
Your post is incredible. I love it! The hawk metaphor, alpha prime/ chest-thumping bull ape, and just the way it's put together. Couldn't have been said better, and made me laugh a little. Really, great job.

HyperActiveX said...


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