The Hidden Power of Words: ‘Dirt’

posted in: Language 0

dirt |dərt|


a substance, such as mud or dust, that soils someone or something


Today’s Word: DirtImage of flowers growing in dirt, photography by R. Isip

Common Phrases and Usage in American English: “We need to buy more dirt for our flower beds.” “This floor is so dirty! I think I’ll have to wash it twice in order for it to look remotely clean.”

My Take on the Definition and Guess as to the Origin: I’m going to guess ‘dirt’ has to do with something with rocks and stones…where dirt comes from, right?

Drumroll Please:

ORIGIN Middle English: from Old Norse drit ‘excrement,’ an early sense in English.

Hmm, interesting. I wonder though if other languages have a similar origin for the word ‘dirt,’ or if the idea refers to something that is not liked or that one would want to shy away from? Let’s now check the origins of ‘dirt’ in one of my favorite references, the Online Etymology Dictionary:

dirt (n.)

15c. metathesis of Middle English drit, drytt “mud, dirt, dung” (c.1300), from Old Norse drit, cognate with Old English dritan “to void excrement,” from Proto-Germanic *dritanan (cf. Dutch drijten, Old High German trizan).

What a very interesting set of origins! It looks like I was correct in my guess. It’s amazing how ‘dirt’ has such fierce origins in the sense of something no one would want or care to touch. No wonder there is such a striking difference when it comes to all things dirty versus clean.

Now to you…were you surprised by the origins of the word,‘dirt’? Join in the conversation and leave a comment below!

Note: Dictionaries used for definitions and references are The New Oxford American Dictionary, Version 2.2.1 (143.1), Apple Inc., Copyright 2005-2011 and The Online Etymology Dictionary,

Follow Rashelle:
Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.
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