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  #1  
Old 08-27-2005, 01:05 AM
soulmurk soulmurk is offline
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Why is it called a dewclaw?

One of those questions that I've always wondered about, but never seriously looked into, until today. I dug around the web a bit and found plenty of sites either advocating or detracting the practice of removing them, learned that only the extra claws on the hind legs are properly called dewclaws, and even learned how to remove them with just some dental floss... but no one seems to know the origin of the word.

The closest explanation I was able to find echoes what I fancifully (sort of) believe, that because they're higher on the leg, they only graze the morning dew.

Anyone know the etymology?
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  #2  
Old 08-27-2005, 08:43 AM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_/dewlap.html

Quote:
dew·lap (plural dew·laps)

noun
Definitions:

1. hanging flap of skin on animal's neck: a loose fold of skin hanging from the neck of some animals such as cows

2. loose skin on person's throat: a loose fold of skin on somebody's throat, often forming later in life

[14th century. < obsolete dew, origin ? + lap1 "loose piece"]
Bolding mine.

That "?" pretty much sums up what's available online: "etymology unknown". It's also not in my Webster's Deluxe Unabridged Second Edition (oof). You'll have to cultivate the friendship of someone who owns an OED (it's not on their online dictionary).

Or we can just wait until Samclem gets here, because I happen to know he owns one. Oh, Saaaammmmm...

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Old 08-27-2005, 08:49 AM
Duck Duck Goose Duck Duck Goose is offline
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...and before some snotty person decides to come in here and snidely point out that I looked up the wrong word--the point is the origins of the prefix "dew" as applied to animal body parts, "dewclaw", "dewlap", okay?

Sheesh, you people.





I can read your minds you know...
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  #4  
Old 08-27-2005, 12:49 PM
Just Ed Just Ed is offline
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From the OED etymology for "dewclaw" (close to the OP's findings):
Quote:
[App. f. dew n. + claw n.
(Perhaps referring to the fact that while the other claws come in contact with the soil, or press the grass to the ground, this only brushes the dewy surface.)]
As regards "dew" relating to body parts, the OED has this to say (etymology of "dewlap"):
Quote:
[The second element lap is OE. lęppa, pendulous piece, skirt, lappet, lobe; the first is uncertain: the equivalent Da. doglęb, Norw. doglęp, Sw. dröglapp, in which the first element is not the word for ‘dew’, suggest that the original form has been altered under the influence of popular etymology.
The English form may be explained as the ‘lap’ or pendulous piece which touches the dewy surface; but that is not likely to have been the original notion.]
Which, interestingly, seems to contradict the etymology of "dewclaw," although that etymology is obviously not meant as definitive.
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Old 08-27-2005, 01:48 PM
danceswithcats danceswithcats is offline
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Here I'd wondered if they were so named because nobody could figure out what they dew. d&r
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Old 08-27-2005, 07:40 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Quixotic posted all the OED has to say on the matter, and, IMHO, correctly brings up the contradictory statements in the OED's etymology.

I would go with their statement
Quote:
The second element LAP is OE. lęppa, pendulous piece, skirt, lappet, lobe; the first is uncertain: the equivalent Da. doglęb, Norw. doglęp, Sw. dröglapp, in which the first element is not the word for ‘dew’, suggest that the original form has been altered under the influence of popular etymology.
and say that the "touching the dew" is a fanciful invention. It almost certainly pertains to the extra flap, etc. The toe isn't connected to a bone, the way that other toes are.
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  #7  
Old 08-28-2005, 09:29 AM
Gymnopithys Gymnopithys is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sanclem
I would go with their statement and say that the "touching the dew" is a fanciful invention.
(snip)

I agree with that.

OED as posted by Quixotic: The first is uncertain: the equivalent Da. doglęb, Norw. doglęp, Sw. dröglapp, in which the first element is not the word for ‘dew’, suggest that the original form has been altered under the influence of popular etymology.

The first element (dog, dew...), including that in dewclaw, appears to be related to dial. (Scotland) dewgs, deugs "scraps, rags, shreds" (Wright's English Dialect Dictionary) rather than to dew "water drops" or, put in another way, the Scottish dewgs belongs to the same group, which is of Scandinavian origin.
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