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You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: largesse

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:

Last week I wrote a headline for the front page of The Sun, “Sinclair shares / largesse with / bonuses for / employees,” and was told later that a reader had complained about my using big words in the paper that people have to look up.

If you stumbled over largesse in that headline, or when it appeared in the first paragraph of the article, but didn’t trouble to look it up, let me fill you in.

We took largesse from French but pronounce it “lahr-JES” and also sometimes spell it largess. Its original French meaning is “large, generous.” In English we have expanded it to mean, variously, “liberality in bestowing gifts,” “giving in a showy and condescending manner” (can’t resist turning a positive into a negative, can we?), “money or gifts bestowed,” and “generosity of spirit.”

Consider it my holiday gift to you.

Example: From a 2009 Seattle Times article on the Seahawks’ signing Luke Joeckel and TJ Lang: “It was a doling out of largesse that the Seahawks — who entered the day with about $25 million in cap space, 20th among NFL teams — decided they either couldn’t or didn’t want to really join."

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