In a word: douceur

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


When English appropriated douceur (pronounced (doo-SER), “sweetness,” from French in the fifteenth century, it referred to a sweet and amiable temperament. Later, in the seventeenth century, it meant a compliment or pleasant turn of phrase.

By the eighteenth century it took on the meaning most common in current English: a gift or gratuity, a consideration—in fine, a bribe.

The word came into French from the Latin dulcis, “sweet,” and is a cognate of the Italian dolce. The French speak of the douceur de vivre, the “sweetness of life,” while the Italians speak of the dolce far niente, the “sweetness of doing nothing.”

Example: From Upton Sinclair’s Wide Is the Gate (1943): “Lanny ordered his car and hurried to the Austrian consulate, where a modest douceur got him without delay the necessary visas upon the passports of himself, his wife, and maid.”

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