Happily continuing on our sorrowful theme, we note that while dolor was the Classical Latin noun for ‘pain, sorrow,’ Late Latin created the alternate form dolus. That evolved to Spanish duelo, which can mean, in the definition of the DRAE, ‘Dolor, lástima, aflicción o sentimiento.’ A second sense corresponds to what English calls ‘mourning.’ When someone is in mourning, we offer our condolencia/condolence, a word based on the Latin verb condolere ‘to suffer with another person, to feel someone else’s pain.’ We’ve carried that verb over as condoler/condole.

The Late Latin dolus that became Spanish duelo also developed to Old French dol, which passed into Middle English as dol and is now dole ‘grief, sorrow’—or let’s say it’s barely still dole*, because the word is archaic. More common is the adjective based on it, doleful, for which Noah Webster gave three definitions in his dictionary of 1828:

1. Sorrowful; expressing grief; as a doleful whine; a doleful cry.

2. Melancholy; sad; afflicted; as a doleful sire.

3. Dismal; impressing sorrow; gloomy; as doleful shades.

Nowadays, of course, doleful shades may just be a pair of dark sunglasses.


* The dole that means ‘to give out a portion of something’ is an unrelated word related to native English deal.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. georgettesullins
    May 06, 2012 @ 21:34:23

    I wasn’t going to mention it earlier, but I’ll mention it now since your “dolorous” theme continues. When my grandfather died in Mexico, having lived 50+ years of his adult life there, I remember there was a very elaborate program distributed at his funeral with the words “¡Dolor!” written in rather large font 3x on the front of the bifold. Inside was his biography, etc. He was a Dutchman who had migrated to Mexico, brought his Dutch wife there, and raised his family of 5 children there. When I first saw this… It was rather startling for me to see such a publication that almost seemed to wail.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 06, 2012 @ 21:55:50

      Thanks so much for your recollection. It’s always good to hear about a personal connection to something, even if it’s something doloroso/dolorous. In contrast to “¡Dolor!” written in a large font, the Northern European culture that predominates in the United States is usually more subdued and less colorful.


  2. shoreacres
    May 09, 2012 @ 09:08:05

    Indeed. The little programs I have from assorted family funerals are so restrained and colorless as to be nearly invisible.

    On a more humorous and interesting note, I once heard a person in Kansas City say, “I’m going over to the house to condole the family…”

    As for “doleful”, I can’t hear the word without seeing a basset hound – the perfect definition, on the hoofpaw!


  3. Steve Schwartzman
    May 09, 2012 @ 09:41:39

    I used to enjoy (and still do) wandering through Central American cemeteries and Mexican cemeteries in the United States because they’re so much more colorful and less regimented than the ones in the Anglo tradition, where in most cases wildflowers are mercilessly hounded out and replaced with plastic.


  4. dianeandjack
    May 11, 2012 @ 08:34:33

    When traveling in Australia, I learned that people there on welfare say they are “on the dole’. I’m not sure if that’s the correct spelling though. I’ll ask an Aussie friend and get back to you!


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 11, 2012 @ 08:50:41

      The expression on the dole used to be common in the United States, too, especially during the Great Depression. That dole is the one that is not related to the sorrowful words, even if people used to be sorry to have to be on the dole. To be on the dole is to have food, money, or other things doled out to you.


  5. dianeandjack
    May 11, 2012 @ 09:00:00

    Oh yes, that certainly makes sense! After I posted I thought that maybe folks on the dole were sorrowful that they didn’t have money and had to accept welfare. But thinking back, the folks I met on the dole in Australia were having a blast, hanging out on the beach all day and living life to the fullest! Makes you wonder! 🙂


    • Steve Schwartzman
      May 11, 2012 @ 09:19:58

      Yes, attitudes have changed. From movies made in the 1930s and 1940s, it’s clear that people were usually ashamed to be “on the dole” because it meant they were incapable of fending for themselves. In contrast, there are plenty of people now who are only too happy to have things doled out to them, and who even want more.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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