Cutting Didoes

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Wed Oct 16 00:35:36 UTC 2002


Should have looked in DARE. They have an extensive entry for "dido." Besides
the info that's in the OED, it includes a 1945 cite from Colcord's _Sea
Language_ that reads, "said to come from the H.M.S. Dido, a very fast ship,
whose commander used to sail her in circles around other vessels of his
squadron to show off her fleetness."

This "HMS Dido" (there have been several ships of that name), was launched
in 1896. This can't be the origin of the generic "cut a dido," meaning to
pull a prank, since that's attested to in 1807. Rather, the particular naval
sense seems to be a play on words, using the coincidence of the ship's name
with an existing phrase. I have no doubt that Heinlein, with his naval
background, got his phrase from this.

And while trying to identify the HMS Dido in question, I came across a good
site on Royal Navy slang and jargon:

DARE also lists a sense of "dido" meaning something fancy or frivolous from

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