• gauche •
Pronunciation: gosh • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Awkward, clumsy, tactless, lacking in grace.
Notes: Today's Good Word is used so rarely it hasn't even lost its French spelling. In French, AU is pronounced [o], CH sounds like English [sh], and all final Es are silent. Perhaps it explains the rather, well, gauche adverb, gauchely, and two nouns, gaucheness and gaucherie, of which the latter is clearly the lovelier.
In Play: Of course it is very gauche to drool on your lobster at the dinner table, but other examples of gaucherie may occur at table: "I thought it very gauche of Philippa Bird to pick her nose at the dinner table tonight, didn't you?" Is that all she did? Questions are also apt to be gauche: "It was very gauche of you to ask the duchess her age tonight, Mortimer."
Word History: Borrowed from French gauche "left", which replaced Old French sinistre in the 15th century. The French word gauche may have come from Old High German welc "soft, languid, weak" whence German welk "withered, faded, languid", but no one seems to know for sure. The ambiguity of English right is no coincidence; the right-handed majority has historically associated its preferred hand with correctness and righteousness, while presuming something wrong with the left. The Latin word for right, dexter, is the source of dexterous. Adroit comes from the French phrase à droit "to the right". On the other hand (so to speak), not only does today's word reflect the left-handed prejudice, but the same is true of sinister, which comes from the earlier Old French word meaning "left" mentioned above. Indeed, even today some of us call a dubious remark a "left-handed" compliment".