This week I will cover three short topics about the letter D. Like most of our letters, the letter D is Roman. It was first used in English when writing Old English in the Latin alphabet (ABC). The Romans borrowed their alphabet from the Greeks and they from the Phoenicians.
A commonly asked question is what does the D stand for in D-Day. D-Day was June 6, 1944, the day on which the British, Canadian, Australian, American and other armies landed on the beaches of northern France in World War II. It was the largest and bloodiest military operation of its kind.
The D in D-day stands for day. It was military jargon for the important and was used to refer to the time of an attack. It was also important not to tell too many people exactly when the attack would be. D-Day was the day of the attack. H-Hour was the time of the attack.
The DR blend
The blend DR, usually at the beginning of words, is very common and deserves a mention. Most of these words come from Old English or descend from related Old English words. Old English examples: (For simplicity the original spelling is in brackets.) drain (dreahnian), draw (dragan), dread (adradan), dream (drom), drink (drincan), drive (drifan), dry (adjective: dryge verb: drygan), drown (druncnian), drop (dropa), dross (dros), drowsy (drusan)... I could go on for the whole page. A few such words are from other languages related to Old English. For example: Middle Dutch: drum (tromme), Middle Danish: drip (drippe) and Old Norse: drift (drift). The DR blend is found in these northern European Germanic languages and does not come from the southern European Latin.
The De/Dis Prefix
De- and Dis- are different forms of a prefix meaning not, off or down. Both originally come from the Latin prefix Dis-. However De- is usually used for words that English borrowed from Old French, which used Des-. For example, the word defeat is from the Old French desfait (past participle of desfaire) meaning to not do. Although now it means to outdo or beat. The Old French word is from the medieval Latin disfacere.
In words borrowed directly from Latin the original Dis- is used. For example, the word discriminate is from the Latin word discriminatus meaning to separate. In English, many of these words from French eventually were altered back to Dis-, while those from Latin may have been altered to De-. For example, the word disarm is from the Old French desarmer and in Middle English was spelt d e s a r m. So historical misspellings give us the usual English confusion.
The military word D-Day has been used for other attacks, but is only used for the one event in regular English. The DR blend is important to learn how to spell. It is used in many common words. The De/Dis prefix is very common. Usually the prefix Dis- is used in words borrowed directly from Latin and De- is used in words borrowed from French. Next week I will cover how silent D is not always really silent.
by John Larrysson
A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.