We were milling around before the official start of the monthly Words, Wines, and Whatever tasting at the Domus Logogustationis, warming up our palates with start-up glasses of wine and some conversation. Arlene was talking about a recent conference she had been to.
“So there was this word challenge thing,” Arlene said, “and one of the challenges was that there are only three words in the English language that start with dw, and all of them are common words.”
I cocked my head slightly and raised an eyebrow. “Three?”
Daryl pulled out his iPad. Arlene darted a hand to block it. “No cheating.”
“There must be more than three,” I said. “Let’s see…”
“No,” Arlene said, “let iPad Boy here see if he can cough them up straight out of his cortex without an index.”
Darryl pulled a little face. “Um. Dwell. Uh, personal names should count – Dwight, Dwayne… Oh, dwindle. And dwarf. Which is actually a noun and a verb, so you can count that twice. We’re already over three that way. And dwelling! The noun means something not exactly the same as the gerund of the verb. I think that’s a pretty comprehensive confutation of the contention.” He smiled.
“Dweeb,” Arlene said.
“I don’t think you’re being fair,” Daryl said. “Geek, sure, nerd, maybe, but I’m not a dweeb.”
“You’re not exhaustive, either,” Arlene said. “You missed dweeb.”
Arlene smiled. “I got them all and then I tweeted it.” She took a sip of her wine. “Sweet.”
“No need to gloat,” Daryl said, and turned his attention to his own glass.
“No, this wine is sweet,” Arlene said.
“Kabinett,” I said. “Riesling.” I mused aloud: “Sweet – tweet – dweeb…”
“It doesn’t really have that much in common with the other dw words, does it?” Arlene said. “More with some other words that have that vowel.”
Daryl had his iPad in action now. “First OED cite is 1982. Which sounds rightish to me. …Probaby comes from feeb, for feeble, with that dw added at the beginning. Maybe from dwarf.”
“I bet there are some phonaesthetics at work there,” I said. “We know that those high front vowels tend to be associated with lighter, smaller, less substantial things. Compare dweeb with what it would be if it were, say, dwab.”
“Sounds like twat,” Daryl said. “And a twat is more obnoxious and less ineffectual than a dweeb.”
“I think the rounded glide into it adds contrast,” I added. “Compare deeb. Think about how we talk about a tweet rather than a teet.”
“Will you stop with the female body parts,” Arlene said.
“No, not – oh, never mind,” I said. “Anyway, what other words do we get a taste of in dweeb?”
“Well, twee,” Arlene said. “And wee.”
“And maybe queen and queer,” Daryl said.
“Oui,” I affirmed. “It’s a little farther afield to squeal, but then there are those toys, Weebles. And weenie.”
Arlene wagged her finger: “Body parts!” I rolled my eyes.
“Weed,” Daryl said. “And Guido.”
“Ooh! Guido!” Arlene said. “Is a Guido a dweeb? They’re kind of different, aren’t they?”
“A dweeb is like a nerd or a geek,” Daryl said, “but with excessive self-estimation, combined with a neediness and overearnestness.”
“Overweening,” I said. “Sort of like a twerp. Which is also a very similar word.”
“Ah, yes,” said Arlene. “I’ll have to tell my tweeps.”
“But, by the way,” Daryl said, scrolling on his iPad, “there are some other dw words that aren’t so common: dwale, ‘deadly nightshade’; dwalm, ‘swoon’; dwang, ‘a short piece of reinforcing timber’; dwerg, a pseudo-archaic form of ‘dwarf’; dwile, ‘floor-cloth’; dwine, ‘waste away’; and a bunch of obsolete ones.”
“And dwapp,” Arlene said.
“Dwapp?” said Daryl. “That’s not in the OED.”
“As in Tony Orloongoo and Dwapp, a fake African music duo from a Don Martin comic strip in MAD Magazine?” I said.
“As in dwapp!” Arlene said, backhanding Daryl lightly on the side of the head. She turned to me and backhanded me as well. “Dwapp!”
“I think I shall dwalm,” Daryl said. “And dwine.”
“And whine quite a lot,” Arlene said. Then, with a smirk, she said, “Don’t dwell on it… dweeb.” She tossed back her glass, turned, and went to refill it.