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Remember, 'dings' could always be worse

May 21, 2017

There's nothing like a brand new car.

They're clean and shiny. The seats are free from stains and potato chip crumbs. The carpet isn't caked with dirt or piled high with fast food bags. And of course, there's that great smell.

Unfortunately, the newness wears off. This reality of car ownership will never feel more harsh than the first time you walk outside and find a ding in  one of your formerly pristine doors.

The thing you have to remember is that "ding" used to be a much more violent action than it is today.


When the verb "ding" first comes into English in the 1300s, likely from Norse, it meant meant to hit something with force, to deal heavy blows, to knock, or to hammer. You could even ding something to death. 

"Ding" has weakened over time, so much so that now it means to cause minor surface damage to something, like a car door. By today's standards, it would take an awful lot of dings to kill or destroy something. 

There's a second verb form of "ding" that has to do with sound. The Oxford English Dictionary says this "ding" comes into English in the 1820 with the meaning "to make a heavy ringing sound" like when you hit metal. This is where the ding of an elevator or kitchen timer comes from.

In recent years "ding" has also come to mean "criticize." Anne Curzan, University of Michigan English Priofessor and co-host of TWTS, found examples that talk about politicians like former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former President George W. Bush getting dinged for one thing or another. 

She also found an example of this meaning in a published article about a set of skis: "Some [reviews] dinged them for a measure of shakiness at high speeds."

In other words, some reviews took the skis down a notch but didn't devastate their reputation. It's similar to how that ding in your car door is annoying but doesn't rise to the level of serious damage.

Do you have questions about language or grammar that are burning a hole in your brain? Let us know at rkruth@umich.edu or acurzan@umich.edu.