Is this word good or not?

I guess it depends on who you ask. If you expose a person to, for example, the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley (or should I say expose the drawings to the person), and the person happens to speak a language such as Russian or Ukrainian, and says something that sounds like “daubry,” that’s good. In fact, that’s “good.”

And if your interlocutor, by a miracle of time and space (or bibliotechnical reference), is Samuel Johnson, then daubry is not just good, it is “An old word for any thing artful.” Johnson quotes Shakespeare to back him up: “She works by charms, by spells, and such daubry as this is beyond our element.”

On the other hand, if you are talking with a modern English speaker – be they Pam Dawber of Mork and Mindy or Dobby of Harry Potter – and they call the work daubry, or daubery, you might well wonder whether they have in mind the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition: “The practice of daubing; the specious or coarse work of a dauber.” The OED adduces various quotations to back itself up: “that dauberye of the deuyll” (from 1546), “Daubery…applause doubtfully deserved” (a definition from 1846), “We should have a graceful embroidery, not a daubery in expression” (from 1693), and this apparently damning quote from Shakespeare: “She workes by Charmes, by Spels, by th’Figure, & such dawbry as this is.”

Hmm. Someone’s slapping it on sloppily here… How could Johnson have whitewashed it so? Or is the OED just slinging mud?

Are you expecting a pun on adobe? Sorry, I won’t Photoshop that one in here; it comes via Spanish ultimately from Arabic al-ṭūb, ‘the brick’. Daub(e)ry, on the other hand, is what you are doing when you are daubing. A dauber does daubery, and a dauber is, loosely, per OED, “A coarse or unskilful painter.” More literally, it’s someone who smears mud, mortar, clay, or plaster in the building and maintenance of walls. That’s what daubing is, originally and still (when not used as a term of abuse for an artist).

And whence comes that verb daub? Via French from Latin dealbare, ‘whitewash, plaster over’, from de ‘down, from’ plus albus, ‘white’ – also the source of album, albedo, and, of course, Albus Dumbledore.

Perhaps Dobby would approve after all. Pam Dawber might still find it Morky – I mean murky. But Doctor Johnson should find it – or at least its layers of etymological plastering – artful.

4 responses to “daubry

  1. Brendan Redmond

    “I guess it depends on WHOM you ask.” Sorry, but words, words, words . . . . 😉

  2. My great aunt used to make daubry. Usually for the holidays. My mother, though, never much of a cook, said they were not worth the trouble and never tried to produce them after my great aunt was gone. I miss them, especially the filled ones.

  3. I hadn’t heard of Mork and Mindy in ages, so I had to google Pam Dawber. I saw an article on her and a very opportune quote: “To go and plaster your kids … I’m sorry,” Dawber explained. “I’m not for that.”

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