Monday, May 18, 2015

It Seems Hedunit

Merriam-Webster’s “Word of the Day” feature explains the origins of a term Rap Sheet readers know well: “whodunit.”
In 1930, Donald Gordon, a book reviewer for News of Books, needed to come up with something to say about a rather unremarkable mystery novel called Half-Mast Murder. ‘A satisfactory whodunit,’ he wrote. The coinage played fast and loose with spelling and grammar, but whodunit caught on anyway. Other writers tried respelling it who-done-it, and one even insisted on using whodidit, but those sanitized versions lacked the punch of the original and have fallen by the wayside. Whodunit became so popular that by 1939 at least one language pundit had declared it ‘already heavily overworked’ and predicted it would ‘soon be dumped into the taboo bin.’ History has proven that prophecy false, and whodunit is still going strong.
Incidentally, if you’re curious to know more about the novel that started all of this wordplay, Milward Kennedy’s Half-Mast Murder, check out this “forgotten books” review by English novelist Martin Edwards. And click here to see a facsimile of the original cover.

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