Monday, October 25, 2004

Etymology Today from M-W: chicanery\shih-KAY-nuh-ree\
1 : deception by artful subterfuge or sophistry : trickery
2 : a piece of sharp practice (as at law) : trick

"We have hardly any words that do so fully expresse the French clinquant, naiveté ... chicaneries." So lamented English writer John Evelyn in a letter to Sir Peter Wyche in 1665. Evelyn and Wyche were members of a group called the Royal Society, which had formed a committee emulating the French Academy for the purpose of "improving the English language." We can surmise that, in Evelyn's estimation, the addition of "chicanery" to English from French was an improvement. What he apparently didn't realize was that English speakers had adopted the word from the French "chicanerie" before he wished for it; the term appears in English manuscripts dating from 1609. Similarly, "clinquant" ("glittering with gold or tinsel") dates from 1591. "Naïveté," on the other hand, waited until 1673 to appear.

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