Well, isn’t this a prickly word to figure out. Not prickly in sound, certainly, with voicing from start to finish (and three apical consonants for Brits, two plus a laminal liquid for North Americans), but prickly because if you don’t know what it signifies its form gives a variety of miscues. Is it someone who is from, or believes in, Dury? Or in hardness (French dur)? Is it a misspelling of a French forgiveness (de rien)? Has it anything to do with dhurries? If you hear it, you might think it’s Chinese, der yin – say, does anyone remember Der Hoi-Yin, the CBC business reporter with smooth hair on one side and prickly hair on the other? Well, that’s fitting, since the durian is a fruit that’s prickly on the outside and smooth on the inside, and has a smell that is quite charitably described as prickly (“disgusting” is a more common word, but the descriptions are usually more graphic and not suitable for polite company – it is banned on Singapore’s public transit, and I mean both the description and the fruit) but a flavour that is smooth and quite popular, especially among Southeast Asians. It’s from that neighbourhood; the name is Malay, from duri, “thorn” or “prickle.” I’m sure Der Hoi-Yin has eaten it many times, living as she now does in Hong Kong. And, with her straight-razor-sharp pronunciation, she would probably pronounce it more like “doo-ree-an” than “der-yin.” That’s more in line with the Oxford English Dictionary’s listed pronunciation. And I imagine more than one British tourist, smelling these oversized tawny hand-grenade-looking stinkbombs (with heavenly flesh), has converted it to “do-yer-in.” Pity they didn’t taste it…
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