• bijou •
Pronunciation: bee-zhu • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A dainty exquisite trinket. 2. A jewel in the metaphoric sense (a jewel of a house), a small but especially elegant or glamorous work of art in the generic sense, that is, including music, architecture, jewelry, etc.
Notes: Today's Good Word cannot seem to shake its French plural, bijoux, which it brought with it from the middle of the 17th century. The word for bijoux taken collectively is bijouterie. I suppose this word could double as the name of a shop trading in bijoux.
In Play: In times gone by almost every town in American had a Bijou theater; not all were small. Now only large cities have one. Remember today's word carries the senses of small and exquisite: "Bill Jerone Holmes himself resides in a bijou house surrounded by lush gardens on Mulberry Street." Don't forget the collective noun: "Maude Lynn Dresser came to the ball in the most outlandish bijouterie you have ever seen."
Word History: English obviously borrowed today's Good Word from French bijou; in fact, it gobbled it whole, including, as mentioned above, the plural bijoux. There is no evidence of this word among the other Indo-European languages, including Latin, which became French over the centuries. So we think French took the word from Breton, a Celtic language spoken in northern France. Breton has word, bizou "ring with a gem". Cornish, a related Celtic language has a word bisou "finger-ring" from bis "finger" (Breton biz, Welsh bys). I'm afraid the trail goes cold at this point. (Now let's all thank Dee Brown for suggesting such a bijou word as a Good Word today.)