Saturday, February 26, 2011


Jim from Northport wrote, “I came across the word ‘daedall,’ but can’t remember the context. I think it is Latin, but I can’t find it on the internet. Is this a word? What does it mean?

I was unable to find a word with that spelling, so my suspicion is that it is a misspelling. The strongest possibility is that it is connected to the name Daedalus. He was the man who created the labyrinth at Crete, an impossibly intricate maze, and who later devised wings constructed of feathers, string, and wax so that he and his son Icarus could escape imprisonment. Icarus flew too high despite his father’s warning that the sun would melt the wax, so he traded his artificial wings for the wings of an angel.

Daedalus, a Greek word, is usually translated as “the cunning one.” I consider that a bit unfortunate, because in our day, cunning bears the connotation of skill in pursuit of deceit. Instead, it should be taken as a synonym of the original meaning of crafty – a craftsman, someone with skill, dexterity, and inventiveness.

Percy Bysshe Shelley used the word in his Ode to Liberty: “The daedal earth,
 That island in the ocean of the world,
 Hung in its cloud of all-sustaining air . . .” And British poet Laurence Binyon took it up a notch: “Visions of cloud and light and daedal earth are the airman's daily scene.”

There is an adjective spelled daedal. It means skillful, ingenious, able to invent or fashion complex things in an artful way. Applied to an object, it means complex or finely wrought. My guess is that this is the word that Jim encountered or that the original writer intended.

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