tatterdemalion » tattermedallion

Variant(s):  tatter-medallion

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • I’d also highly recommend “Tatterhood” (as opposed to “Tattercloak,” which is a variant upon 510-B). “Tatterhood” features a queen desperately longing for a child, when one day she spies a tattermedalion child running about her courtyard. (SurLaLune Fairytales forum, June 25, 2004)
  • A large, silk-covered ottoman had been reduced to a tatter-medallion, a turd had been deposited in the toilet. (Will Self in the Independent (UK), Oct 29, 2005)
  • He submerges himself in the offal commerce of Smithfield and the tatter medallion on offer in Petticoat Lane. (Will Self in the New Statesman, Oct 16, 2000)

Analyzed or reported by:

_Tatterdemalion_ is a rare and rather dated word, used either as a noun referring to a person dressed in tattered clothing, or as a synonym for “tattered” or “ragged”. The OED does not seem to have any usage examples post-1900, but they do exist: some can be found in Dictionary.com’s recent “Word of the Day” entry.

The _-demalion_ part of the word is obscure. AHD4 simply opts for “of unkown meaning”, whereas Dictionary.com adds “perhaps from Old French _maillon_, ‘long clothes, swadding clothes’ or Italian _maglia_, ‘undershirt’”; the OED calls it “a factitious element suggesting an ethnic or descriptive derivative”. Etymonline.com speculates about a possible reference to Tatars.

Spellings have varied. Again from the OED, 17th century cites have _Tatter-de-mallian_, _tattertimallion_, _tatterdimallians_, _totterdemalions_, _Tatterdemalean_ and more. What is clear is that _-demalion_ has nothing to do with _medallion_, except for being an almost-anagram and that however little sense _tattermedallion_ makes, it offers at least more of a hook for interpretation than the original does. Maybe, as jorkel speculates in the Forum thread, a “tatter(ed) medallion” implies “a certain fall from grace”.

The recast form _tattermedallion_ is by no means new. The columnist Will Self, twice cited here, appears to have a predilection for it (further cites from him exist). It also appears in a 1934 poem by Berton Braley on the buccaneer Henry Morgan:

>This is the ballad of Henry Morgan /
Who troubled the sleep of the King of Spain /
With a frowsy, blowsy, lousy pack /
Of the water rats of the Spanish Main, /
Rakes and rogues and mad rapscallions /
Broken gentlemen, tattermedallions /
Scum and scourge of the hemisphere, /
Who looted the loot of the stately galleons, /
Led by Morgan, the Buccaneer.

Even much further back, Peter King in his book _Crime, Justice, and Discretion in England, 1740-1820_ (Google Books link to p. 162) quotes a 1748 correspondent of the _Norwich Gazette_ writing about roads “lined with shoals of tattermedallions either begging relief with an air intimating that they will not be denied or boldly taking it pistol or cutlass in hand”.

An eggcorn with a long history, it appears.

| link | entered by Chris W. (admin), 2008/08/25 |

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.