This morning we were discussing if we coddle our dog (pictured below) when I fired out the word “mollycoddle”. Jennifer stared at me with wild excitement. I said I was pretty sure it was a word. But before we looked it up, we broke it down. Next time you encounter something you don’t know, think about it before you seek the answer on your phone.
This is one of my favorite all-time exercises. When digging through memory to find answers to questions you think you know, begin with an analysis, which is simply breaking something down into its constituent parts. Then, apply a process of elimination by recalling times or places or ideas associated with the question. I had a professor say once, “If you have to look it up, you don’t know it.” Sometimes you don’t have time to run the traps, other times you simply can’t sound the answer. But if you’re working in apt conditions, try!
First we talked about “coddle”, which we all know means to pamper or treat a thing sensitively. It reminds me of this special Caesar salad dressing recipe my dad makes. For it to have the proper texture, you must include a coddled egg. He and I used to make the dressing together, and I remember the first time he taught me how. I’m unsure if you’ll ever know the power of the word “coddle” until you’ve coddled an egg. I mean you really have to treat it delicately!
For “molly”, we were lost. I figured it was something I picked up from early American literature, like in the book Maggie: Girl of the Streets. I surrendered and looked it up. “Molly” apparently is a derivative form of “Mary”, and refers to prostitution. Didn’t know that. But I wager the Mary-Molly relation dates to the misunderstanding of Mary Magdalene as a reformed prostitute. From Mary comes the association of prostitution and its derivative “molly”, when combined with “coddle”, gives us “mollycoddle.” I saw a few other theories about moll and Moll as a the name of a thief and how this might have lead to the portmanteau, but I found them unsatisfying. Let’s keep in mind: I’m no expert.
Some further Googling led to word forums that suggest “mollycoddle” originally referred to effeminate men, first appearing in Jane Austen’s Emma and continuing outward from there.
That’s my rabbit hole for the day! And here’s our husky!