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Derring-do

Derring-do is the standard spelling of the noun meaning daring deeds or heroic daring (used especially in reference to swashbuckling heroes). The phrase originated in a late 14th-century Geoffrey Chaucer poem, and it has taken many forms over the years—including durring don (in Chaucer, literally meaning daring to do), dorryng do, derring doe, and derrynge do. And given the term’s meaning and history, it is often understandably spelled daring-do. But as far as most English reference books are concerned, derring-do has been the correct spelling since Sir Walter Scott used it in Ivanhoe in 1819.

Example


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Spelling the term daring-do is not a serious error, but some readers might consider it wrong. In any case, derring-do is the most common spelling used in published writing. Here are a few examples of the word in action in 21st-century texts:

The secret beating heart of a traveling circus, hidden behind the fluff and flounce of the center ring and the derring-do on the high trapeze. [New York Times]

Empathy is a stunning act of imaginative derring-do, the ultimate virtual reality. [A Whole New Mind, Daniel H. Pink]

The caricature of life for Allied PoWs often is often one of breathless derring-do: tunnelling, jumping or … powering to freedom on a souped-up motorcycle. [BBC]

I didn’t even realize until I read his book that Andrew was still living with his mother while he was pulling off all this derring-do. [Life, Keith Richards]

While culinary derring-do has never been one of the town’s primary draws, “serious dining” can now be included alongside London’s famously revolutionary style. [Wall Street Journal]

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Comments

  1. The Middle English phrase “durring don” should, and in fact does, quite naturally lead to a Modern English “daring do”. Just because Sir Walter Scott perpetuated an earlier misspelling doesn’t mean we have to follow his lead! If you must complain about something, complain about the ordinary verb phrase becoming a noun that really has nothing to do with the verb! The original Chaucer simply meant “in daring (to) do what is fitting for a knight” — this doesn’t mean what we now think of as “derring do”! It just means that Trolius (the man who is being spoken of) does not fail to do those things that are fitting for a knight to do. So, leave “deeds of derring do” as is, but understand that “daring do” is quite correct, though quite different in meaning.

    • We agree with everything you say. If you look at our post a little more closely, you’ll see we don’t say one spelling is better than the other, and we don’t make any complains. We’re just reporting how the word is used and what most current dictionaries and usage guides recommend.

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