Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Language of Sophistication

Élan. Panache. Soigné. Chic. Debonair.

Have you ever noticed how the English language, lacking the proper words for these kinds of concepts, had to import them wholesale from French--a language oversupplied with words to refer to all the nuances of beauty, style, and fashion?

And this has been going on since the Norman invasion. Nuance, beauty, style, and fashion all derive from French roots as well. As do suave, poise, charm, urbane, elegant, sophisticated, culture. Not to mention the unmentionables (lingerie).

It is said that 1/3 to 2/3 of English words ultimately derive from French, but for words that discuss refined aesthetic qualities, the percentage seems even higher. The only Anglo-Saxon or Germanic-derived words I could find in this category are pretty and lovely.

And the Germans have the same problem that we English speakers-do. Over the years, they've imported die Eleganz, die Mode, die Kultur, schick (chic), der Charme, and der Elan.

Image: The very chic, soigné, and elegant "Zémire" ensemble by Christian Dior, 1954. Image from the Victoria and Albert Museum.


Brenda said...


My name is Kaity Moss, and I am working for Bloomsbury and Walker Publishing. We are currently trying to get the word out about our new book ‘Notes on Directing,’ and we were hoping to send you a free copy for your review. To send you the free copy, we need your address though. Thank you, and hope to hear from you soon.

Walker & Company
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY, 10010

Brenda said...

Also, I would appreciate it if you sent your information strait to my e-mail address-

Thank you.