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debonair

May 21, 2018

I came across the word debonair the other day – it was in a crossword clue – and for the first time, as if in a flash of lightning, I understood its etymology. I already knew what it meant, of course. Someone who is debonair is smart, stylish, sophisticated; but there is also a suggestion of a bit of dash, a bit of swagger about them. It’s one of those gendered words: you can describe a man as debonair, but it would sound odd to use it of a woman. I have always liked to think that people would describe me as debonair; though rationally I know that the chances of this are zero. Anyway the word’s origin was suddenly clear to me: it comes straight from the French de bon air – having a good air.

I may not have a good air, but I am good at etymologies.

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One Comment
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    There is also the less complimentary expression airs and graces from the same root.

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