• cicisbeo •
Pronunciation: chee-chiz-bay-o • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Obsolete but still fun) A knotted, decorative ribbon attached to the handle of a sword, walking cane, umbrella, fan, etc. 2. A cavalier servant of a married woman, a dangler about married women, a man who professionally accompanies married women or unprofessionally pursues them.
Notes: My recent blog on the glut of pejorative names for female lovers in the absence of such for men resulted in a surprising response. Ed Garvin suggested that we do have a pejorative word specifically for a male lover (aside from gigolo, which I conceded), so I made it today's Good Word. It is a word that has refused for ages to surrender its Italian plural cicisbei, pronounced [chee-cheez-bay-ee].
In Play: Even though I don't think this rarely used word damages my argument that we have more negative words for female than for male lovers, it is curious enough that I though we would all enjoy it: "Armin, I saw that cicisbeo Phil Anders parked in front of your house while you were away in Mexico last week!" And we all thought Phil was a professional cicisbeo who only accompanied married women for their protection and with their husbands' consent.
Word History: This word is such an esoteric one etymologists have paid it no attention. The pronunciation of CI as [chee] gives it away as an Italian word, maybe borrowed from French chiche beau "cute chickpea". The other hypothesis is that it came from a word in the Venetian dialect cici "women's chatter", but that would leave us with an inexplicable SBEO. I prefer the first one since beau is associated with boyfriends in some languages outside French. However, the long and short of it is, no one really knows. (Let's thank Ed Garvin for coming up with this curious old word and hope he didn't learn it from experience.)