Daily Archives: April 20, 2009


A word for a discombobulated, shabby, ramshackle building, perhaps collapsing clapboard, an architectural jalopy. It certainly has a slapping sound of boards tumbling, doesn’t it? Well, or how about bricks or stones? If those seem more suited to crumbled rubble, well enough, but this word did originally refer to the stones of a building being dispersed as if thrown: Latin dis “away, asunder” and lapidare “throw stones” (from that lapidary lapid root – how far we are from lapis lazuli in this wind-whistling hovel with its panels flapping in the atmosphere). This adjective is now much more common than the verb from which it comes, though one could still say that careless tenants (and weather) dilapidated a building, or simply that the building dilapidated (it’s an ergative verb, like break – the object of the transitive is the subject of the intransitive). The written form of the word could seem to have boards sticking out at all parts: ascenders, dots, and descender. The sound of it we have already explored; the percussion of the word is more accentuated in the common mispronunciation dilapitated (if a person is decapitated and so brought low, then a house that has oft crepitated may seem suitably dilapitated, I suppose). And what words do we commonly see it with? Houses, buildings, and homes, as well as structures, dwellings, and barns, and even apartment, and of course old, but also that great – and spooky – contrast, mansion.