Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cippy Learns a Word

Does it ever bother you when you keep seeing a certain word or phrase in your reading material, in novels for instance, and you keep thinking you maybe possibly know what it means but in reality, you don’t really know?
Isn’t it funny how sometimes you immediately look up the word to satisfy your curiosity, but then other times you neglect the research, and the same word crops up again somewhere and you think to yourself, “Wow! I still don’t really know what that means!”
For me, I kept reading the word “avuncular” for about 300 years before I finally said uncle and looked it up, you know?
And most recently? → De rigueur.
I see it everywhere, and I always sort of imagine I know what it means, but really, when it comes down to it, I’m just guessing.
So I finally looked it up!
De rigeur is a French phrase [Duh!] and it basically means, “of rigor” or “of strictness”, as in "necessary according to etiquette, protocol or fashion."
Socially obligatory.
My favorite dictionary, the Merriam-Webster says, “prescribed or required by fashion, etiquette, or custom.”
So there you have it.
Now I know.
Perhaps some of my French-speaking readers can shed even more light on this wonderfully ubiquitous phrase.
In the meantime I now feel confident to use it in some of my own writing.
I’m currently at work on a short story that takes place on the high seas, so I’m having Starbuck, one of my characters say:
“Aye aye Cap’n. Jake and I will help get them torn sails patched as soon as we can find de rigueur!”



Beth said...

And then there’s that other flaw of having read a word for years and years and when you finally get a chance to use it (because you do know what it means) you mispronounce it. And feel like a fool.

(Keep working on that short story...)

Sam Sattler said...

What gets me, Cip, is that I've read some words for a couple of decades without ever hearing them spoken aloud. That means that I don't dare use them, even when I know what they mean, because I'm unsure of the proper pronunciation.

AND - I'm way too lazy to try to figure out the pronunciation from all the little clues the dictionary gives...never did understand some of those little signs. :-)

Shark said...

"As soon as we can find de rigueur!” that's too funny..

Isn't Websters an American dictionary, full of words like honor? I use the Oxford, although mine is kind of small. I want one of those huge, unabridged set of Oxfords. I have a complete Websters in a single volume somewhere...

kingmonkey said...

A little off-topic: when you bring a travel cup to Starbucks (as any self-respecting coffee elitist would), do you call it your Cippy cup?

Alyce said...

For me it was "alacrity." All I knew is that I was annoyed everytime I read the word because it was usually describing some ditzy heroin eager to please her hunky boyfriend (usually in Jane Austen-type sequels). Every time a man would so much as snap his fingers the heroin would repond with alacrity. Yeah, I don't read those books anymore. But at least now I know what alacrity means. :)

Isabella K said...

Living in a bilingual milieu, I feel qualified to add that it's one of those French phrases that French speakers don't actually use. Like "touché" and "à la mode."