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midrift (sic)

January 29, 2019

My friend David Alterman recently alerted me to a rather endearing mispronunciation: ex-footballer Steve Sidwell, commentating on the Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur FA Cup tie (a tragic result for Spurs; but life goes on), referred to a player controlling the ball with his midrift (sic). Obviously he had heard the word but never seem it written down, and assumed it must end with a t. It reminds me of when my daughter Miranda was a really little girl and used to refer to her cardigant.

What is the derivation of midriff? I am relying on wikipedia here, but it seems it comes form an Old English word, midhrif (hrif meaning stomach). In Middle English it was written as mydryf. But after the 18th century (by which time, I assume, the word had arrived at its modern spelling, midriff) the word became obsolete, according to wikipedia. And it was not revived until the 1940s, as a respectable alternative to the word belly, which people had become sensitive about using (wikipedia says this was because belly connoted obesity, but I think it’s because belly was often used informally to refer to a somewhat lower-down part of a woman’s anatomy).

So anyway, it’s midriff not midrift. A slight pity, because that means there is no rhyme in English for spindrift.

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2 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    So it’s tautological and thinking about it midriff implies there are also upper and lower riffs.

  2. Luc permalink

    In Dutch “middenrif” is a muscle between the chest and the belly (just under the ribcage).

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