• ensconce •
Pronunciation: en-skahns • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To conceal something in a safe, secret place. 2. To set up in a prominent, fixed place, as to ensconce yourself on the coffee table so everyone can see you.
Notes: This word has the usual family members, such as ensconcing, the noun and adjective. However, they are rarely used. The past participle, ensconced, is used almost like an adjective. Just remember, it begins with an E and uses a C after the S—not a K.
In Play: Always check the room before canoodling: "Unbeknownst to his older sister, Little Woody Dewett ensconced himself behind the draperies in the living room to see what his sister and her boyfriend might be up to that evening." In the holiday season we are more likely than usual to ensconce things: "Hillary ensconced the angel she had inherited from her grandmother on the crown of the Christmas tree after all the other decorations were in place."
Word History: It seems unlikely that this good word is related to the sconce that now refers to a wall lamp. In fact, English has another word, sconce "earthworks, small fort", which went into the making of the verb ensconce. This noun probably came from Dutch schans, akin to German Schanze "earthwork, redoubt". Meaning No. 2 above is a US extension of the original meaning of "dig in, fortify". The word for the wall candle or lamp comes from Old French esconse "lantern" from the Latin absconsus "hidden", the past participle (absconsus) of abscondere "to hide". (Yes, our word abscond comes from the same Latin verb.) But the ironic twist here is that the Latin word for "hidden" became the English word for a prominent light on a wall. Quite a semantic journey. (We are happy that Susan Lister has become ensconced in the Alpha Agora and is a regular contributor of Good Words.