dander » dandruff

Chiefly in:   get one's dandruff up

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • “That really gets my dandruff up, and after we pulled their bacon out of the fire. Duplicate duty?” (link)
  • “Well that got my dandruff up considerably and our next meeting was with the Queensland State Treasurer and Deputy Premier …” (link)
  • “Because when you get a free enterprise that gets his dandruff up and he knows how to fight, I’ll tell you, he knows how to work, he knows how to produce.” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Paul Brians (Common Errors in English)
  • Ben Zimmer (link)
  • Dave Dowling (The Wrong Word Dictionary)

This one has a certain amount of fame, since it’s one of a long list of goldwynisms, off-center quotes widely attributed to movie mogul Sam Goldwyn (who flourished in the 20s through the 40s and died in 1974 at the age of 94); no doubt he actually said a few of these, but most of them were originally uttered by others and then got attached to the much more famous Goldwyn. (This is utterly irrelevant to the eggcorn, but Goldwyn was born Samuel Goldfish, and consequently had good reason to change his name.) The most widely cited Goldwyn version seems to be: “This makes me so sore it gets my dandruff up.” Most of the recent non-Goldwyn cites have possessive “my”, and that’s the way it’s listed in Dowling’s compendium of errors.

A long time ago (in Eggcorn Database years) Ben Zimmer remarked on “dander” >> “dandruff” in connection with “dander” >> “gander”, suggesting that maybe “dandruff” should get its own entry. Here it is, finally.

The background is moderately complex. English has two words “dander”, both of them quite restricted in usage: one (only) in the idiom “get one’s dander up” ‘become angry’ and another referring to flakes in animal hair or fur (and most commonly encountered in discussions of allergens). They have nothing to do with one another historically, though the second is related to “dandruff”, referring to analogous flakes in human hair. So the progression seems to be from the utterly opaque element “dander” in the idiom to the independently occurring word referring to skin flakes in hair, and then to the fairly common word “dandruff”; it might not make a whole lot of sense, but at least there’s a real English word in there. There might even be some who get the image of people so enraged that they shake their heads with enough agitation to cause dandruff to fly from them.

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2006/06/26 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Jim Murphy , 2006/07/01 at 10:55 am

    Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (c. 1999) has the following entry, relating “dander” to “dandruff” in the idiom:

    “1. loose scales formed on the skin and shed from the coat or feathers of various animals, often causing allergic reactions in susceptible persons.
    2. Informal. anger; temper: Don’t get your dander up over such a trifle.
    [1825–35; alter. of DANDRUFF]”

  2. 2

    Commentary by Chad Nilep , 2006/08/15 at 3:55 pm

    It should also be noted that this eggcorn only occurs in the phrase “dander up / dandruff up”. A common p>f subsititution gives dander up > danderuf (dandruff).

  3. 3

    Commentary by Frank Wynne , 2006/11/22 at 7:17 pm

    ‘dander meaning ‘temper’ is first recorded in 1831, in American English. It derives from Caribbean term ‘dander’ referring to ‘fermentation of sugar’, which may come from the Spanish ‘redundar’ - ‘to overflow’

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