"bedraggled" is a past participle adjective from to bedraggle. In the musical My Fair Lady Higgins calls Eliza a bedraggled guttersnipe. I never doubted that bedraggled has some connection with German Dreck (dirt) and never checked the etymology.

But now I've looked up the word in etymonline and find that he says: to bedraggle, be- + draggle, frequentative of to drag.

"drag" as noun and verb has various meanings, but the principal meaning of the verb seems to be to draw (Latin trahere). I'm used to the fact that etymonline often fails to hint at possible connections with German, but in the case of bedraggled I think the derivation from to draw is a bit dubious.

I would like to hear other views.


This is what I find in DWDS, with etymology from Pfeiffer's dictionary:

Modern German Dreck

Swedish träck

Dutch drek

Middle Dutch drec

Middle High German drec, Gen dreckes

Old High German -threc as in mu:sthrec, 12th cent.

Old Norse threkkr (with thorn)

Old English threax (with thorn)

Pfeifer sees a connection with

Greek stergános (contains the element terg, with metathesis of r)

Latin stercus

and he assumes

IE *(s)ter


By the way, German Dreck is in the English dictionary, see


Another addition:

One thing that irritates me is that a prefix such as be- doesn't make much sense with the meaning to draw. But it would fit well to Dreck meaning to besmear with dirt. This might be a hint that the connection with Dreck can't be excluded.

Second addition: FWIW, I found Low German doerch 'n Dreck trecken meaning to draw through the dirt/ mud. http://www.plattdeutsches-woerterbuch.de/pages/plattdeutsches_woerterbuch.html - The Frisian dictionary also has drek. https://de.glosbe.com/de/fy/Dreck

  • 1
    The þorn is the key here, especially. If there were to be a direct connection between an English /d/ and a (modern) Dutch-German /d/, either (1) it is a loan from Dutch-German into English, or (2) any words with initial /θ/ or /t/ in the other Germanic languages cannot be related. Compare English thorn, ON þorn, Scandiwegian torn vs. Dutch doorn, German Dorn. Danish also has dorn ‘drift/mandrel’, and that is borrowed from German, quite as expected. So if the ON þrekkr, OE þreax, and Swedish träck are to be associated with German Dreck, then English drag cannot [cont’d-->] Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 11:18
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    [-->cont’d] be directly so. It would have to be a loan from Dutch or German from a much later time. This doesn’t work too well, either, ’cause there’s no reason at all why English would borrow Dreck /drek/ as drag /draɡ/, changing both the vowel and the final consonant for no reason. English has, and has always had, both /e/ and /a/, and both /ɡ/ and /k/, so if it were to borrow the Dutch-German word, it would just have used the same sounds as the source, not randomly changed them. Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 11:21
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    Also, the prefix be- has an extremely wide array of meanings. One of these, as given by the OED, is “from side to side (within a space), to and fro, in all directions, in all ways, in or through all its parts, thoroughly”. Since draggle in itself means “to wet or befoul (a garment, etc.) by allowing it to drag through mire or wet grass, or to hang untidily in the rain; to make wet, limp, and dirty”, “to trail (on the ground), hang trailing”, a meaning like ‘make something dirty by dragging it to and fro/thoroughly through the mud’ seems fair. Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 11:26

2 Answers 2


I can't find evidence of the origin of 'drag' from German Dreck. Actually most sources cite as its likely origin the Proto-Germanic dragan/dragana (draw-drag) related to Low German dragge (drag-anchor). "(But not considered to be directly the source of Latin trahere)"


  • limp and soiled as if dragged in the mud; "the beggar's bedraggled clothes"; "scarecrows in battered hats or draggled skirts"

Etymology references:


drag +‎ -le

  • From Middle English draggen (“to drag”), early Middle English dragen (“to draw, carry”), confluence of Old English dragan (“to drag, draw, draw oneself, go, protract”) and Old Norse draga (“to draw, attract”); both from Proto-Germanic *draganą (“to draw, drag”), from Proto-Indo-European *dʰerāgʰ- (“to draw, drag”). Verb sense influenced due to association with the noun drag (“that which is hauled or dragged”), related to Low German dragge (“a drag-anchor, grapnel”). Cognate with Danish drægge (“to dredge”), Danish drage (“to draw, attract”), Swedish dragga (“to drag, drag anchor, sweep”), Swedish draga (“to draw, go”), Icelandic draga (“to drag, pull”). More at draw.
  • I don't want to say that there is a direct line from German Dreck to bedraggeled. I said "some connection". How that connection evolved historically would be quite another question.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 7:58
  • @rogermue - you mean that 'Dreck' may have sort of contaminated the meaning of 'draggle' through the centuries ? and you looking for possible evidence of it?
    – user66974
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 8:06
  • There are several possibilities. That old Germanic forms of Dreck have come near old forms of the word family to drag and intermingled or had influence. And it may be that to drag and the element drag in bedraggled are different words but look alike and of course one follows up only the tracks of to drag, just because it looks alike.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 8:16
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    @rogermue - that may be a point. Personally I find the image of 'as if dragged in the mud' (meaning dirty) very suggestive and fitting the context of medieval fights in muddy streets.
    – user66974
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 8:22
  • Admitted. But I find some connection with Dreck plausible as well. I have to see what I find about the history of Dreck.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 8:26

Eric Partridge, Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, fourth edition (1966) asserts that draggle is one of a number of draw-related words in English, including draft, drag, drawl ("probably"), dray, and dredge.

(5.) 'To drag', ME draggen, comes prob[ably] from the syn[onymous] ON draga but perh[aps], by a dial[ectal] deviation, from OE dragan; the freq[uentative] is draggle, to drag so as to soil with mud or moisture, and it has c[om]p[oun]ds draggle-tail, a slatternly woman, and the int[ensive] bedraggle, mostly in the p[articipial] a[djective] bedraggled.

Thus, Partridge thinks that we get draggle from Old Norse or from Old English. And Shaw (in Pygmalion) really missed a bet by not having Henry Higgins refer to Eliza Doolittle as a draggle-tail.

Incidentally, Meriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary 2003) reports that the Yiddish drek and German Dreck come "from MHG drec; akin to OE threax, rubbish." But MW then shot down my immediate thought that threax yielded trash in modern English, arguing instead that it comes from "ME trasch (fallen leaves and twigs, perh. of Scand origin; akin to Norw dial trask rubbish; ON tros fallen leaves and twigs, OE trus."

So no draggle from Dreck, and no trash from threax, according to these sources.

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