Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dormie: considering the links

My favourite golf term: dormie (also dormy).

In match play the score is kept by counting the number of holes each competitor wins. The total number of strokes doesn't matter.

When a player is leading by the same number of holes left in play, that player is dormie, or dormie-X (where X is the number of holes left to play). The trailing player then has to win every remaining hole just to halve the match (you don't tie; you halve). The player who is dormie will win the match by winning or halving any of the remaining holes.

A player who is dormie is in a position to likely win the match outright and is guaranteed at least a half.

Two very different theories on its origin:
The Wikipedia page takes an ambitious stance, connecting it to the plural of dormouse, a little rodent found in Scotland. It further connects the word to golf competition by claiming that the reclusiveness of the little beasts made any sighting on the links a good omen.

The USGA settles on a derivation from dormir meaning 'to sleep' since the leading player can rest easy as it is now impossible to lose. I must admit this is the derivation I always assumed. The connection to being dormant, just waiting emerge, makes intuitive sense.

Funk & Wagnalls 1960 takes it back to dialectal English dorm meaning doze -- and further back to Latin dormire.

Webster's New Twentieth Century 2nd ed simply calls it Scottish in origin.

But it's hard to attest. And few dictionaries have much confidence in any derivation.

The OED doesn't offer an etymology.
The American Heritage Dictionary claims unknown origins.
Webster's New World Third Edition puts only a question mark in the brackets.
Merriam-Webster also throws up its hands.
The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms agrees that it's Scottish but offers no further derivation.

John Ayto doesn't offer an entry in his Dictionary of Word Origins but he does wonder if hibernating dormouse gets its name from connection to French dormeuse: sleeper (fem). Similar etymologies of dormouse are possible and they get some nods from dictionaries as a possibilities. Something that muddies the lucky dormouse connection mentioned above as well as the arguments against it. the US team won the Ryder Cup. Is it just me or do chants of USA! USA! really make little sense in sporting events?


  1. Well, in national competitions (or quasi-national ones like the Ryder or President's Cup), it's the simplest way to cheer for the team, isn't it?

  2. Also, I always just assumed it came from dormir. Never even really thought about it. Insteresting.

  3. Yeah I suppose that's what eludes me. It starts as a chant for the team from the US but it becomes a chant of patriotism. It's a type of patriotism that I don't get. My appreciation for this country just doesn't extend to (or more importantly, from) a group of athletes.

    But I guess that's for another blog under another blogger account.


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