Sunday, October 30, 2011

Me & Cinderella

This week’s work comes courtesy of obscure etymology and an underappreciated NBC TV show.
padiddle (puh-DID-ul) — noun: a vehicle with one of its headlights out. interjection: a word shouted when one spots a vehicle driving with one headlight out.
Not dictionary definitions, I should note; they’re my own. And I had to make my own up because padiddle isn’t a word that appears in any dictionaries. However, it’s apparently a recognized term among a certain group of people. An age group? People who grew up in a specific geographic region? I’m not sure, but the fact that I learned it from Prime Suspect might be a tip-off.

Since the NBC adaptation of Prime Suspect began airing, I’ve been recapping it for KCET, trying my best to compare Maria Bello’s fedora-topped lady detective to the Helen Mirren original. As a result, I’m one of the few people watching Prime Suspect, which is really too bad, considering the gradual disappearance of the New York City-based crime procedural. (You watch — they’ll vanish before you realize they’re endangered, just like the common pigeon.) In the most recent episode, an important clue was hidden in a homeless dude’s addled ramblings about a padiddle moving in and among the trees in Central Park. The detectives don’t know what to make of it until their lieutenant points out that padiddle is a word that apparently refers to a car with only one headlight. It’s also what you yell out when you spot such a highway hazard. Sometimes there’s a punch. Yeah, it’s basically to the Chinatown headlights what Slugbug is to the Volkswagen Beetle.

So why padiddle? That’s a good question. No site I found seemed to have any idea how this nonsense-sounding word got attached to cars with less-than-optimal nighttime visibility, though at least I learned that some people spell it pediddle or perdiddle. A possible hint: There may be a connection to drumming vocabulary, and I say this based on the fact that there’s some debate whether padiddle should be listed on Wikipedia’s “Glossary of musical terminology” page, plus the fact that there exist the terms paradiddle and paradiddlediddle that refer to a specific style of drumming. (ABAA and ABAABB, respectively, referring to the left and right sets. That has to be a clue, right? What with the left and right headlights?)

So wherefore padiddle? I don’t know. But I can at least offer this, in perfect alignment with the recent spate of 90s nostalgia that now characterizes the state of pop culture. (I mean, fuck: In Living Color is coming back?):

But I have to admit that I actually never got tired of this song.

Previous words of the week after the jump.
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