Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Matter of Spatter


Fern heard a weather forecaster speaking about a possible spattering of raindrops and wondered about the origin of spatter.

It is connected to Flemish, Dutch, and Germanic words meaning to burst out or to spurt. The verb has gone through a number of meanings. Originally, it meant to disperse in fragments. Tennyson used it this way in Harold, A Drama:

  • “O God, that I were in some wide, waste field
    With nothing but my battle-axe and him
    To spatter his brains!”

Eventually, it came to mean to send drops of fluid flying through the air, thereby staining surfaces. In his Romance of Natural History, Phillip Gosse wrote,

  • “Huge drops of warm rain, like blood-drops, are spattering the stones.”

That developed into the figurative sense of denigration or detraction—staining someone’s reputation, as it were:

  • “As an advocate, he must praise the man whom, a year before, he had spattered with ignominy.” [James Froude: Caesar, A Sketch]

Spatter is connected to spats, a protective covering made of cloth or leather worn over the upper shoe and the ankle.

  • James, Charles, A new and enlarged military dictionary [1802]: “Spatts, a small sort of spatter~dashes, that reach only a little above the ancle, called also half gaiters.”

SIDEBAR: Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Tutorial


Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition


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