What does the word ‘demesne’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: demesne….

Mark Haddon is a fine novelist with one bestseller behind him, and a new book in the offing.

The celebrated 2003 bestseller is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. His more recent work, The Porpoise offers a multi-layered retelling of Pericles, with extraordinary flights of narrative fancy. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, although it certainly won me over.

And the book also gave me a word for the week, demesne. Here is how Haddon used it:

She carries the child over and places it in his arms. “Call her Marina.” It would be an offensive presumption in any other circumstances but this is her demesne and the demand has a force he cannot gainsay.

A term of French origin, the word  comes from the root demeine or demeyne (the more modern spelling) meaning “power; dominion; control, possession.” The Old French word demaine (related to the English domain) referred to “land held for a lord’s own use,” from the Latin dominicus, meaning, “belonging to a master.”

The word was ultimately re-spelled by Anglo-French legal scribes under influence of Old French mesnie, meaning “household” and the concept of a demesne was “land attached to a mansion.”

Today, demesne refers to “a manor house and near or adjacent land,” kept and occupied by the lord and his family, is from the late 14th century.

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