If it were dun...
July 19, 2010 2:29 AM   Subscribe

How common is the usage of the expression "To dun" in the context of chasing payment?

My Finnish friend just asked me if this is a correct expression. I had never heard of it (I am British and not an accountant) but apparently I am just ignorant. Where is this used and how commonly?
posted by rongorongo to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've seen it used in the context of debt collections. Dunning letters are the debt notifications sent out from the creditor, informing you of your debt and their intent to collect. I think I've also seen it used to refer the entire debt collection process.

It's very common used in debt forums where people are discussing the specifics of debt collection and payment strategies. This makes me think of it more as an industry or technical term. I don't really think of it as a commonly used, colloquial expression.
posted by empyrean at 2:40 AM on July 19, 2010

My grandmother uses it weekly, when discussing the mail. "Here's another duns," she says, referring to charities hitting her up for donations. Or, "This is another dunning letter."

She's 87 years old, and the only person outside of the collections industry I know who uses the word in speech.
posted by goblinbox at 2:54 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: I've really only seen it as jargon within business. I've worked with utility billing systems in the past and have frequently seen it referred to as such internally.

For instance the hierarchy of letters of increasing urgency and decreasing politeness you get from your utility provider, which goes something like this:
- Here is your bill. Please pay it.
- You've forgotten to pay your bill. Please pay it as soon as possible.
- You still haven't paid your bill. If you don't pay it now we may have to consider drastic action like cutting off your supply or going to court. Alternatively give us a call and we can work out a payment plan. (This may well have a pink background with red text on it showing how much you owe - hence it's often called the "red reminder".)
- You STILL haven't paid your bill. If you don't pay it now, we will go to court to apply for a court order to make you pay. If you're really having trouble paying, CALL US. (This one often appears on a suitably sinister letterhead for "Collections" or "Enforcement", even though it's still the same company).
- We are going to go to court unless you pay us within the next few days. We really mean it this time.
- Court Summons.

These letters (after the initial bill) would be referred to within the billing system as "the dunning letters" or "first dunning letter" etc, and the process that creates them would be the "dunning process". Anyone talking about them would use these names to describe them.

However, this is probably pretty much unknown outside this sort of context. You certainly wouldn't expect a customer to know what it meant.
posted by Electric Dragon at 2:58 AM on July 19, 2010

This is a word that I use once in a while, typically in discussions about credit and/or bill collection activities, in phrases such as "dunning letter" or "dunning phone call"... but, I'm older than dirt..
posted by HuronBob at 3:15 AM on July 19, 2010

I am familiar with it — I recognize the term as one having to do with getting money from someone who owes it to you. Does this mean it's common? I am not professionally on the sending end of any dunning letters. I've received a few, being rather disorganized about paperwork at times, but I don't believe any identified themselves as dunning letters. So the knowledge has come to me organically, however such things do.

I associate it with the phrase "dunning it out of him/her," and always inferred that it was somewhat coercive. On looking at definitions now, I see that there's not necessarily any threatening involved, so much as just irritation, so perhaps I took that from the context of books or film. Mobsters and strongmen dunning payment out of folks who owed them, etc.
posted by mumkin at 3:16 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: It's perfectly correct English, but no longer particularly current. You run across it all the time in Victorian literature.
posted by timeo danaos at 3:34 AM on July 19, 2010

By the way, "dun" used to refer to the debt collector as well as the debt demand:

"I wish you could see some of Rawdon's friends who are always about our door," Rebecca said, laughing. "Did you ever see a dun, my dear; or a bailiff and his man? Two of the abominable wretches watched all last week at the greengrocer's opposite, and we could not get away until Sunday. If Aunty does not relent, what shall we do?" (Vanity Fair)
posted by timeo danaos at 3:56 AM on July 19, 2010

I use it quite a bit, but only to describe the debt. Of course, I also use terms like vetting, so I may just be weird.
posted by Samizdata at 4:00 AM on July 19, 2010

Seconding timeo above, the word "dun" (meaning as a collector of debts) appears several times in Down and Out in Paris and London.

Melancholy duns came looking for him at all hours, and by instruction we always told them that he was at Fontainebleau, or Saint Cloud, or some other place that was safely distant.

I'd never heard of it before either, but I managed to figure out what a "dun" was from the context.
posted by humpy at 4:41 AM on July 19, 2010

i have used this term myself, but not in terms of debt. rather, when begging authors to turn in their manuscripts (it's much like the process electric dragon referred to, but with more begging and pleading and less threatening). again, only used internally in the publishing places i've worked, and not everyone knew what it meant (sadly).

vetting is also a great word!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 4:53 AM on July 19, 2010

Very common in Georgette Heyer novels - here's a glossary

Dun territory debt

posted by infini at 4:55 AM on July 19, 2010

Just for interest's sake: The Third Circuit dealt with the term in a 2008 case. The judges apparently thought it unusual enough that they went through the trouble of defining it using a law dictionary. This, to me anyways, indicates that the term has passed out of common usage even in the legal profession, which has a tendency to hold on to archaic terminology for transactions.

Campuzano-Burgos v. Midland Credit Mgmt., 550 F.3d 29 (3d Cir. 2008), for those who care.
posted by valkyryn at 5:53 AM on July 19, 2010

I have heard it in various parts of the US South, but grew up with it meaning "annoy" or "pester".
I have heard any number of people say things like: "He keeps dunning me" or "WHY are you dunning your mother!?". I still use it when I mean "an annoyance that is both aggressive, hopelessly mundane, and non-stop"

This is the first time I have looked it up and am a little surprised to read that it is really about collections.
posted by Tchad at 7:08 AM on July 19, 2010

The first time I heard it was from an older work colleague (in her 60's) from Northeast. She used it in the context of collecting on fundraising pledges, so that's consistent with what others are saying. I love those kinds of words, so stored it away in my head.
posted by kimdog at 7:18 AM on July 19, 2010

I am familiar with it from British mystery novels from the 30s and 40s (Ngaio Marsh, Patricia Wentworth, Georgette Heyer, etc. )
posted by leahwrenn at 9:39 AM on July 19, 2010

I've only seen this word twice: the first time, by Dickens, in David Copperfield -- I believe in reference to Micawber -- and the second time (as humpy mentioned) in Orwell's classic Down and Out in Paris and London. I've never heard it used in real life, ever.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 12:07 PM on July 19, 2010

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