• panache •
Pronunciation: pê-næsh • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A plume of feathers, especially in a hat or helmet. 2. Dash, flamboyance, verve.
Notes: Today's word is a near-orphan. One rarely used adjective, panached, indicates a set of multi-colored stripes, such as panached pansies, since panaches in helmets and hats were multi-colored. Don't forget that the [sh] sound comes from the French pronunciation of CHE.
In Play: In the 19th and early 20th centuries Native Americans of the plains were notable for their colorful panaches in the original sense, but Europeans of that age loved them, too: "When I was young, the most elegant of women's hats had to be adorned with remarkable panaches." The kind of panache that remains with us today is only metaphorical, "Michael Jordan not only stuffed the basketball through the net, he did it with panache."
Word History: This Good Word is simply the French word for "plume, verve" from Italian pennacchio "plume" or Spanish penacho. These two words are from Late Latin pinnaculum "little feather", the diminutive of pinna or penna "feather, wing". Pinnacle also comes from Latin pinnaculum, whose meaning had changed to "gable, small wing" just before Latin split into French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. The Proto-Indo-European root was *pet- "feather, wing," also at the root of pen, the writing instrument which originally was a feather. Of course, the PIE [p] became [f], and [t] became [th] in English, so the same root, with the suffix -er, turns up in English as feather.