Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Duke in the Dock

If we trace that phrase back to its origins, we could render it “the leader in the cage,” and this because “duke” comes from the Latin ducere, to lead, whereas “dock,” in the sense of a place where the accused person stands comes from the Flemish dok, meaning a pen or cage. But if I changed the phrase to “the duke at the dock,” this time meaning something that separates water from the earth, the meaning could be rendered “the guide by the guide,” once more going back to Latin, because to lead is also to guide, and because “dock” in the watery sense derives from aqueduct, thus some structure that guides the water, also from ducere. But if the duke in the dock was fined a certain sum, we could render that as “the duke was docked.” Now that last meaning of “dock” in this case comes from yet another meaning of the word, namely to chop off an animal’s tail—and specifically the fleshy, muscular part.
Now while I have these words under interrogation, I might as well note that both Hitler and Mussolini were dukes. Hitler was called Der Führer, which means leader or guide in German, and Mussolini was, of course, Il Duce. And no. The Doctor didn’t get his name from chopping off damaged muscular appendages. That title derives from docere, “to show, to teach” and by implication to make something right by correcting. That was a step up from being a plain old leech, a name that had its origins in what doctors did in medieval times—namely to bleed people. Me duce lingua dulcis…

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