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dench also Dench

adjective informal

used to say that something is extremely attractive, fashionable, impressive, etc

'He also did the Aston Martin brochure a few years back, he said he wanted it when he was in Spooks. But for me he'll be a romantic Bond in the vein of PB and I don't wan [sic] that. He's not Dench. Connery and TD are well Dench.'

MI6comunity.com [web forum] March 2013

Earlier in the year we looked at the word amazeballs, highlighting the fact that, despite having a pile of adjectives at our disposal, we English speakers seem to have an endless fascination for inventing expressions of approval. Just a few weeks later and here we are again, though this time we're in shiny, brand-spanking new word territory (cue drum roll, this happens very rarely) with the arrival of dench.

it's perhaps doubtful that dench would have succeeded as a new coinage were it not for the fact that it happens to be identical to the surname of Dame Judi Dench

Love it or loathe it, the expression amazeballs is made up of recognizable English words and its meaning is essentially transparent as some kind of quirky modification of adjective amazing. Other additions to the lexicon of enthusiastic approval have exploited the concept of auto-antonymy, where an existing word takes on a meaning which is the direct opposite of an established sense – think examples like bad, wicked, and more recently sick. And then there is of course cool, a very old word (it's from Old English) which was given a new sense back in the 1940s. Dench however is a very different animal in that, up until 2012, it had never existed as a meaningful string of letters in the English language. Now however, as the citation above illustrates, it can be used as a slang alternative to cool, often in exclamations such as He/She/It/That's well Dench!

It's perhaps doubtful that dench would have succeeded as a new coinage were it not for the fact that it happens to be identical to the surname of Dame Judi Dench, a world-famous British actress latterly associated with the James Bond movies (in which she played 'M', head of the intelligence service). Dame Judi has herself been a very enthusiastic supporter of the word, honoured and delighted that her surname is being used as a trendy new adjective. Though this is coincidental rather than deliberate, the actress's positive reaction (and perhaps also the fact that she is recognized the world over as a highly respected and successful individual) has sparked tongue-in-cheek modifications of usage along the lines of That was well judi dench or even … That's well judi.

Background – dench

Dench was coined in 2012 by British rap artist Lethal Bizzle. Bizzle started saying the word when playing the video football game FIFA with professional footballer Emmanuel Frimpong. Together they made exclamations like "what a Dench goal" and then began saying the word on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. The expression took off and after someone printed it on a T-shirt, Bizzle and Frimpong launched a clothing brand at popular request, producing tops, baseball caps etc with captions such as "stay Dench". The brand was an immediate success but sales rocketed when actress Judi Dench's positive reaction was widely publicized, throwing the word itself into the media spotlight.

Of course the concept of names doubling as meaningful words, a phenomenon technically described as eponymy, is nothing new in English. From recent examples like google, now a generic term for searching the Internet, right back to the word sandwich and its link to the 18th century earl, eponymy is one of the few routes through which genuinely 'new' words enter the language, most other neologisms being based on words that already exist. Though more than likely ephemeral, dench however is an example of that very rare breed of words which are pure inventions – the brand name came after use of the word, and not the other way round, and the link to dame Judi's surname was fortuitous, but purely coincidental.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 16th April 2013.

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