Friday 27 May 2011

Odd words – again

That wonderfully obsessive website called Wordnik -

has reminded me, again, that archaic and unused words can sometimes be more contemporary, more satisfactory for a particular moment, than one of our more frequently used words.

One just has to forget what the word sounds like to register how people react immediately to words that are foreign to them. A bit like how an expletive may be responded to with stunned alertness. On the other hand, how the way one speaks can say much more than what a word itself expresses.

An instance from the last few days is a lovingly and relaxed smudgy word: louche.

Now, have you said the word louche this week?

Wordnik says that, as an adjective, louche means squinting; not being straightforward; being sinister.

As a verb, louche connotes a moment when a substance becomes cloudy when it is mixed with water, always due to the presence of anethole (Have you come across that word recently? It is the correct term for para-methoxyphenylpropene, p-propenylanisole, and isoestragole). They say that adding water to such an aromatic unsaturated ether is known as ‘the ouzo effect’. Witness this louche effect in absinthe.

Louche was once, of course, based on the French word 'losche,' squint-eyed, which comes from the Latin 'luscus,' meaning to be blind in one eye.

The Collins Dictionary has another definition for louche and this is one I am much more familiar with – to be shifty or disrespectable. When I was a student, we called others in the Philosophy Department ‘louches’.

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