April 04, 2007


silhouette - \sil'-you-et\ noun

1: A drawing consisting of the outline of something, especially a human profile, filled in with a solid color.
2: An outline that appears dark against a light background, outline

If you have seen the recently released movie "The Namesake" by Mira Nair, you'll remember the character, Ashoke Ganguli played by Irfan Khan repeating one of his grandfather's favorite quote, ".....that's what books are for, you can see the world without moving an inch". English as a language is a well-toured one. As, Allan Metcalf, in his book, "The world in so many words", writes "If you speak English, you know at least a bit of a hundred languages. Or more. It's true. You are a savant in French, a genius in Latin, a philosopher in Greek. If you made it through kindergarten, you have mastered a bit of German. If you have a yen to be a tycoon......you are speaking Chinese and Japanese. If you trek to paradise, you are going through Afrikaans and Persian."

That brings me to the word Silhouette...For someone who pursues photography in her spare time, this word holds a special meaning for moi. And you don't need a MOI to tell you that it migrated into English from French. You know it has French origins by the mere sound of it :)

What I found fascinating though was that it was coined after the name of a French gentleman (err....Monsieur) Étienne de Silhouette (1709–1767) who was a controller general of finances in France in the mid-eighteenth century. He was extremely niggardly with the state money as well as his own that for a time "a la Silhouette" came to mean "on the cheap". His parsimony was greeted with ridicule. Outline drawings were given his name (trust Frenchmen with an imagination like that!!!!!). He was forced out of office in less than a year, but an outline is still, in French and in English, a silhouette. :)

Sources: The Merriam-Webster Book of Word Histories

Pic: Moi

Update (05/04/07): by 666

I am not entirely certain but these are the caricatures which Moi is referring to. Further research proved fascinating and I hope to do a follow-up post on 'Silhouette' .. every dark cloud has a silver lining !


Jas Bhambra said...

Your wish is my command, Swati dear, and here I am commenting! :)

I love the photograph. As a kid I never knew how to pronounce Silhouette

Moi said...

jas :)Now u do!!! and u also know where it came from!!!

666 said...

@jas: your patronage is earnestly solicited:-)

@moi: brilliant! have changed the label to 'eponyms'. We need to distinguish between words from people's name i.e. eponyms and people named after words

Moi said...

wow!!! the pics are awesome addition.....where did u get them from???? and yeah eponym's apt!!!that's why u are the owner and moi , the contributor :DDD..way to go!!! :)

and dont u go arnd calling every post excellent and brilliant and the likes.....it's heady and i just might get addicted!!! :DDD

suramya said...

très bien cuit.l'a aimé.