39

A posting in my Facebook timeline today began "I've been sorting boxes of Pure D-Crap." The poster was writing from Alameda, California (near San Francisco). It struck me that I hadn't heard "pure D" used as an intensifier in at least 25 years—and perhaps not since I left Texas in 1980.

A Google Books search finds a couple of instances of the term from the early 1990s. From Lee K. Abbott, "Where Is Garland Steeples Now?" in Jeanne Schinto, The Literary Dog: Great Contemporary Dog Stories (1990):

After he was gone for about four months, you heard this story often and with considerable conviction, it now having entered the popular imagination. It was told by a KINT DJ and appeared in the CB cross-talk on I-10 or up around Odessa. Darrell Royal, then coaching the Longhorns and in Houston for a cookout, told a high-school running back named Scooter that it, the story, was pure-D invention—wish and whine from those of mashed spirit. You heard it in Goree, at the VFW hall in Heron, at Mildred's Diner.

Alll of the place names and other references in this excerpt are in Texas (KINT, for example, is a radio station in El Paso). The setting appears to be Texas in the late 1960s or early 1970s (Darrell Royal left his job as football coach at the University of Texas in 1976), though the story was probably written sometime in the 1980s.

And from Wanda Schell & Kenny Bento, Martin Said So: A Drama (1991):

SAMUEL DAVID. And I told you not to bring any of that kind of talk in here. You better take your crazy behind back to school and never mind that crap you learned out there in the streets. You want to learn something, learn it in school.

RICHARD: That's your answer to everything, ain't it, Pop? School ain't gonna give me the things I need. The only way I'm going to get anything is to go out and take it.

SAMUEL DAVID. You act like a Pure-D-Fool! Ruth, you hear this boy?

This play was published by a tiny publishing house in Schulenburg, Texas, a small town in the south-central part of the state. The speakers in the dialogue are African American.

My own memory of the phrase involves someone declaring in a thick Texas drawl that some assertion or action by another person was "pure D bull," but I can't call up any further context for the remark. None of the editions of Dictionary of American Slang include an entry for "pure D."

My questions are:

  1. Where and when did "pure D" as an intensifier originate?
  2. What does the D stand for?
  3. Where (geographically) was and is the expression used?
  • Not sure if this is relevant but I read the sentence as I've been sorting boxes of Pure Dog Crap. – MonkeyZeus Nov 4 '16 at 15:58
  • The word didn't originate as "pure xx". It's a sonic play on "purdy", which is a regionalism/mocking of "pretty". So "Pure-D crap" is equivalent to "Pretty crap" -- with multiple meanings ("Mostly crap", "Fine crap", "Dressed-up crap", etc.). The guys I know, who genuinely talk this way, mock and mangle many words, deliberate-like, especially high-fallutin, or French, or Spanish lingo. – Brock Adams Nov 4 '16 at 17:43
65

The trail of dees goes back to the mid-1800s, as follows.

First, OED Online defines "puredee, adj. (and adv.)" (with forms pure-D, pure-d, pure dee, puredee, pure-dee, puredy, pure-T, all from the 1900s) as

U.S. regional (chiefly south and south Midland).
Thoroughgoing, out-and-out, complete, real. Also as adv.: very, totally, completely.

["puredee, adj. (and adv.)". OED Online. September 2016. Oxford University Press (accessed November 03, 2016).]

The earliest attestation in the OED is from 1938, in the form 'pure D':

Mississippi: Guide to Magnolia State (Federal Writers' Project) 15 It's the pure D truth.

The definition given by the OED agrees with what I uncovered of the senses in use; 'pure D' is an intensifier, and is usually synonymous with 'thoroughgoing'.

The earliest use I uncovered was in the Waco Morning News (Waco, Texas) of 13 Jun 1912. There, the form is 'pure-dee':

"Captain Bill," as he is called by his old friends, is a pure-dee Waco booster.

Going forward in time, to bridge the gap between 1912 and 1938 (the date of the first OED attestation), the form 'pure D' was employed in a classified ad in The Houston Post (Houston, Texas) of 8 Nov 1912 (and other days):

640 ACRES pure D black land prairie, 8 miles from Liberty on shell road...

The next instance I uncovered, in the form 'pure-dee', appeared in the The Houston Post of 2 Feb 1915:

pure-dee from 1915 Houston Post

Next, a 2 Jan 1916 instance from an article in the Waco Morning News about a stage appearance that followed the showing of two motion pictures:

puredee from 1916 Waco Morning News

In The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana, 2 Mar 1916, the first appearance I uncovered outside of Texas is still associated with Texas:

puredee from 1916 Louisiana paper

In The Houston Post of 17 Apr 1916, an ad encouraging investors moralizes about thoroughgoing laziness:

puredee from 1916 Houston Post

A column-length ad for another "black land" farm uses 'pure dee' in the 17 Jan 1923 Courier-Gazette out of McKinney, Texas. The seven-year gap between this instance and the previous is likely an artifact of the limited resources I am able to deploy:

puredee from Courier-Gazette, McKinney, Texas


Having more or less covered the ground between 1912 and the 1938-2005 attestations provided by the OED, I looked for evidence that would explain what the devil the 'D' stood for. The ever-helpful OED suggested the etymology of 'puredee' was from compounding:

PURE adj. + D n. (see sense 3 at that entry). Compare DEE v.

(op. cit.)

Sense 3 of 'D' was given as

Used euphemistically for damn (often printed d——), etc. Cf. DEE v.

["D, n.". OED Online. September 2016. Oxford University Press (accessed November 03, 2016).]

Attestations for that sense from 1866 and 1877 are given. The verb 'dee', cross-referenced at both 'puredee' and 'D', is defined as

a. Pronunciation of d——, euphemistic for damn (see D n. 3); usually in pa. pple. deed (also deedeed) = d——d, damned.
....
b. as adj. = DAMNED adj. 4a.

["dee, v.". OED Online. September 2016. Oxford University Press (accessed November 03, 2016).]

Attestations from around 1845 to 1889 are given.

I reasoned from the suggestions that, if the 'dee' of 'puredee' was indeed a shortening of a euphemism for 'damned', the forms 'pure damned', 'pure damn', 'pure d——' or 'pure d——d' ought to be in evidence. For the latter two, I was able to find some such evidence, first in a 4 Jan 1906 edition of The Weekly Gazette out of Colorado Springs, Colorado,

puredee from 1906 Colorado Springs

and second in a 29 Feb 1912 edition of The Twin-City Daily Sentinel out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina,

puredee 1912 Winston-Salem

While these instances do suggest that the basic hypothesis holds water, their appearance in geographically distant areas (Colorado and North Carolina) from the areas where 'puredee' was in evidence (Texas and Louisiana) made for some hesitation about accepting the hypothesis as entirely borne out.

Therefore, I searched for other evidence that the 'D' in 'puredee' was a euphemistic shortening of 'damn' or 'damned'. It seemed such evidence might be supplied by instances of 'dee' or 'deedeed' (or 'deed', but the needle-in-a-haystack nature of such a search discouraged it before I began) where the intent was clearly to represent 'damned'. Such instances, as it turned out, were not in short supply (relatively speaking); they were also chronologically precedent to 'puredee'.

Here are some illustrative instances, ordered from earliest to latest.

From The Indianapolis News, Indiana, 16 Nov 1871:

deedeed from Indianapolis, 1871

From the Burlington Weekly Free Press, Vermont, 15 Aug 1873:

deedeed from Burlington, Vermont, 1873

From The Times, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 11 Jul 1878:

deedeed from Philadelphia 1878

From The Wheeling Intelligencer, West Virginia, 22 Jul 1878:

deedeed from West Virginia, 1878

From The Salt Lake Herald, Utah, 25 Nov 1894:

deedeed from Utah, 1894

From The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, 4 Sep 1905:

deedeed from New York, 1905

While none of the instances are from Texas, they do serve to illustrate that 'deedeed' (at least, if not 'dee' or 'deed'), in the sense of 'damned' was in common and widespread use for many years prior to the appearance of 'puredee'.

Further, I reasoned that if the 'dee' in 'puredee' was a euphemistic representation of 'damned', another common collocation of the period, 'double-damned' should be instanced. This hypothesis also bore fruit.

From The Tennessean, 20 Mar 1867:

doubledeed from Tennesse, 1867

From the Chicago Tribune, Illinois, 30 Mar 1878:

doubledeed from Chicago, 1878

From The Indiana Democrat, Pennsylvania, 24 Nov 1887:

doubledeed from Pennsylvania, 1887

From The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, 25 Dec 1887:

doubledeed from Louisiana, 1887

From The State Chronicle, Raleigh, North Carolina, 21 Mar 1893:

doubledeed from North Carolina, 1893

From the San Francisco Chronicle, California, 5 Feb 1913:

doubledeed from California, 1913


Of the evidence presented, I suppose that the instances of 'pure d——' (1906) and 'pure d——d' (1912) are the smoking gun connecting the 'dee' of 'puredee' with 'damned', while the instances of 'deedeed', 'double-deed', 'double-dee-dash', and 'double dee-dashed' are supplemental.


For your first two questions, then, I have these answers, supported by the evidence given in the foregoing:

  1. 'Pure D' in the forms given by the OED entry for 'puredee' originated in Texas...or thereabouts...sometime before 1912.

  2. The 'D' stands for 'damn' or 'damned'.

For your question 3, my research is ongoing, but so far the research indicates the term is in widespread if not exactly common use. Re-runs of a television show called "The A-Team: Pure-Dee Poison" contribute significantly to contemporary use, but other instances continue. In the 2000s for example, and discounting the television show re-run mentions, instances appear in Kentucky, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Indiana, and Nevada. A preponderance of such instances appear in Louisiana.

  • 5
    Outstanding research—thank you! I am familiar with the modifier "double-damn" from the challenge "I double-damn dare you!" It seems highly likely that "double-damn" is intimately connected with these "double-dee" and "dee-dee" forms (neither of which I've ever encountered). – Sven Yargs Nov 3 '16 at 17:33
  • As for part two here, wouldn't the existence of "pure damned" with similar meaning be pretty compelling evidence that that that is what D stands for? It would seem odd if a "cleaned up" saying were so much more popular than the original to which it is an oblique reference that no evidence exists. – Paul Nov 5 '16 at 2:36
  • @Paul, 'pure damn' and 'pure damned' were in use as an intensifier between 1841 and 1938 in the corpora I checked (9 instances). The instances were geographically widespread in the US, with no discernible concentration in any particular region. My omission of that evidence was inadvertent (I forgot). I might add those to the answer, but I'm finding the current length of the answer oppressive, and am a little reluctant to add to it. – JEL Nov 5 '16 at 5:20
  • @SvenYargs Also “damn, damn, double damn”, as a certain Sanderson sister was given to saying… – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 3 at 21:54
7

A very quick google led me to this post on WordWizard by user Ken Greenwald

...The evidence, however, looks pretty strong to me for the probable origin provided by the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE):

PUREDEE adjective, adverb. Also PURE-D, PURE DEE OLD, PURE O.D., PURE OLDEE, PURE-T [[all forms in lower case]] [Probably originally euphemism for pure damn(ed)] chiefly South and South Midland, U.S.: Genuine, real, just plain; very, really, completely.


Here’s what Cassell's Dictionary of Slang had to say, which is much less convincing, based on the quotes that follow:

*PURE-D adjective (also PURE-DEE, PURE IDEE) [1950s and still in use] (U.S.): Complete, absolute, utter [‘pure,’ adverb + ‘D,’ adjective?]

D adjective [early 19th century]: Excellent, wonderful, first rate. [? abbreviation for ‘dandy’ (late 18th century and still in use): first rate, excellent, a general term of approbation].*

  • The OED seems to agree that it's "pure damned" in origin, but I've not got access to the original to check; englishforums.com/English/PureD/lqxxl/post.htm – Richard Nov 2 '16 at 19:39
  • +1 Thanks, Richard. I was hoping that DARE (which I don't have access to) might have something on the subject. – Sven Yargs Nov 2 '16 at 19:46
  • @SvenYargs - None of them seem wholly conclusive but I'm guessing the first one is the more likely. – Richard Nov 2 '16 at 19:46
  • @Richard the current online edition has it under "puredee" with etymology "pure adj. + D n.", and refers to sense 3 of "D" which is defined as "used euphemstically for damn." So the content is slightly different but the conclusion is the same. – hobbs Nov 3 '16 at 6:22
7

Harold Wentworth, American Dialect Dictionary (1944) notes two early instances of "pure D" (and one in which "pure bee" may serve as an intensifier)—all from 1941—in its entry for pure, though it doesn't offer any insight into the question of what the D stands for:

pure. ... 2. adj. Good, perfect; veritable, downright, 'regular.' [Relevant examples:} 1941 A pure bee swarm of o' chaps. [James] Still '[The] Proud Walkers.' 1941 it takes a pure D humdinger to hunt birds .. if a dog's got pure D hoss sense & a fellow's got bat brains, he can train the dog to hunt birds. J. Street in S[aturday] E[vening] Post Dec. 6, p. 110. 1941 s.e.Miss[issippi] Laurel I'm pow'ful fond of Woody. He's a pure D man .. He .. won his case. He's a pure D man .. Mama has got pure D gumption. J[ames H]. Street [In My] Father's House 148–65, 346.

I couldn't find a readable edition of Still's "The Proud Walkers" to provide additional context for the "pure bee swarm o' chaps" example, but I suspect that "pure bee" in that case is tied very tightly to "bee swarm" and isn't a variant of "pure D." I did find the examples written by James Street, however—in "Weep No More, My Lady" and in In My Father's House, which interested readers may consult for greater context.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing here is that Street seems to use "pure D" as a positive intensifier of admirable things: having "hoss sense," being "a man," and having "gumption." But in the examples from later decades that I cited in my original question, the intensifier is associated with negative qualities—"crap," "invention" (in the sense of "untrue story"), "fool," and "bull." So if Street was reflecting current usage in his 1941 use of the modifier, usage of "pure D" may have shifted from positive situations to negative ones over the years.

The examples from Street move confirmed use of "pure D" as an intensifier back to 1941. Searches of the Elephind and Library of Congress newspaper databases (the latter covering newspapers from the years 1789–1922), however, did not turn up any matches for "pure D" or "pure-D."

Stella Hughes, Hashknife Cowboy: Recollections of Mack Hughes (1989) has this glossary entry:

pure-dee Texas or southern phrase meaning pure damn.

Hughes, uses "pure-dee" nine times in the body of this book—eight times (negatively) in the expression "pure-dee hell" and once (positively) in the expression "pure-dee luxury."

R.Scott Brunner, Carryin' On: And Other Strange Things Southerners Do (2001) has this:

Pure-dee: a more polite form of the well-known expletive "pure damn," which of course means "unmitigated": "It's just pure-dee stupidity to think Vanderbilt could win the SEC."

Here the negative connotation of the expression is unmistakable. (The "SEC" in the quoted example is "Southeast Conference," a powerful collegiate football conference that Vanderbilt University continues to be very unlikely to win any year soon.)

Inspired by these instances and by Richard's answer, I also ran Google Books searches for "pure damn" and "pure damned." Those searches yielded several dozen matches—but only one from before 1993. From the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, Bureau of Safety, Anode, volumes 9–10 (1923[?]) [combined snippets]:

Something must be done to restore the feeling of safety. I turned over most things in my mind and none of them would fit the feeling.

And what made things worse was I remembered those 47 poor devils who were suffocated to death in August in the Argonaut mine in California. Pure damned cussedness and delay and carelessness that was. Forty-seven men bulkheaded themselves in a cross-cut on the 4,350 ft. level, having no means of escape and 47 brave men died like rats in a trap. I'll tell you the story one day.

The Argonaut Mine disaster occurred in 1922, so the date for this article seems reasonably firm, even though I couldn't directly confirm it. Still, the theory that "pure D" comes from "pure damn[ed]" has two difficulties: (1) Aside from the 1923 instance cited here, I haven't found any instances of "pure damn[ed]" until long after "pure D" became established as a Southern regionalism; and (2) in James Street's usage in 1941 and in Mack Hughes's usage (once out of nine times) at an unknown date before 1989, "pure D" or "pure-dee" has a positive edge, very different from the sense of "unmitigated" attributed to it in Brunner's glossary.

Robert Hendrickson, The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms (2000) identifies the core sense of the term as not "unmitigated" but "unadulterated":

pure dee luck Pure unadulterated luck. "My second was a heart shot and pure dee luck. I'd tried for the heart, of course, but with him running like that it was a chancey thing.” (Louis L'Amour, Bendigo Shafter, 1979)

"Unadulterated" may be the most accurate synonym for "pure D," since that meaning makes sense in expressions as varied as "pure dee heaven," "pure-dee hell," "pure dee fact," and "pure dee water." How "pure damned" might have arisen as a synonym for "unadulterated" is unclear to me. At the same time, though, Jonathon Green, Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (2005) gives no rationale for the extension of "pure dee" to the term "pure idee":

pure-d adj. (also pure dee, pure idee) [1950s+] (US) complete, absolute, utter. {PURE adv. + ? D adj.}

Much remains to be explained.

0

"Pardie" and "Perdie" are alternatives to "Par Dieu"="By God". Throw in a Cajun or Texan accent and you get "pure-d".

0

When we were kids, if something was crap we'd say it was Pure-d. When something was good it was Grade-A. "After his crash, his grade-a bike became pure-d."

0

I was in an Air Force family stationed at Webb AFB just outside Big Spring in West Texas, in the 1960s, and attended my last 2 years of high school at Big Spring High School. I heard "pure-d" in a lot of conversations, and still use it in conversation when I want to emphasize the absoluteness or purity of something. I've read that it is used as an 'intensifier', which is a good definition. I even used it unconsciously in a poem in a small book I published. I seldom hear it, and usually it comes from someone with a Texas background. It's a little like another rare word, larrapin', which I picked up further north in Amarillo, TX, although it's found a lot of places in the American South, and means "delicious", primarily of food.

  • Interesting note, JJohnson—thanks. I've occasionally heard the term larruping used in Texas and elsewhere—but the American Heritage Dictionary says that the verb larrup means "to beat flog or thrash" and that the noun form of larrup means "a blow."I've never heard larruping used to mean "delicious"—or at least I've never understood people to mean that when they use the word. – Sven Yargs May 3 at 19:13

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