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Definition: Secret, hidden, dark .It can also refer to ‘hidden’ feelings – i.e., gloom, sorrowful, etc.

Pronunciation: Say it like you see it. Dern. 


It is not exactly clear when dern entered the English language. Nor is it clear at which point it became obsolete. Indeed, it is still in use in some dialects of Scottish English. Dern originated as ‘tarni’ in Old High German, referring to something that was ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’. Interestingly, the word ‘tarnish’ also derives from ‘tarni’ – referring to something whose appearance has become hidden, in a manner of speaking.

 Why This Word?

 This will be of interest to any Harry Potter fans out there. The concept of a ‘Cloak of Invisibility’ is a very old one – one that dates back centuries – if not millennia. In the German ‘Niebelungenlied’ an epic ancient German tale, the hero Siegfried wins the loyalty of Alberich with his use of the Cloak of Invisibility – or ‘Tarnkappe’. This early use of ‘Tarn’ – from whence our Dern comes – is a good example of how the word was used when it was still in vogue. Dern or ‘Tarn’ referred to things that were not only hidden – but somewhat secretive too.

 How to use the word dern in a sentence?


Dern is a difficult one because it doesn’t feel right. ‘The man was hiding in the dern cave’ almost sounds like a swear word. ‘The castle was a dark, dank, dern place …’ I suspect that such a use will appeal only to alliteration enthusiasts.

Dern, it seems, is destined to remain hidden …


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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