• grotesque •
Pronunciation: gro-tesk • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. A style of art in which bizarre animate forms are interwoven with fantastical plants and flowers. 2. Horrifyingly and unnaturally bizarre, distorted, misshaped and ugly.
Notes: Don't forget that grotesque came from French so recently as to preserve the French spelling: que is one way French spells the sound [k] at the end of words. Today's word comes with a coterie of relatives: the adverb is grotesquely, and the noun expressing the same sentiment as a quality is grotesqueness. It also brought with it from French a collective noun (in the linguistic sense), grotesquerie "a collection of grotesque objects or ideas".
In Play: This word has come to be used in the sense of "extremely ugly" in the US, but it means more than that: "To get even with a patron who refused to pay him, the architect made the gargoyles grotesque caricatures of the faces of the patron's entire family." I especially love the collective noun: "Hitler's grotesquerie appalled everyone of sound soul and mind throughout the world."
Word History: Today's Good Word, if you haven't already noticed, came to English as the French word grotesque. French picked it up from Italian grottesco "of a cave or grotto" from grotta "cave". Grotta is what Italian turned the Latin word crypta "vault, cave" into, a word which ultimately came from Greek krypte "hidden place". (Notice how English borrowed this word all along its way to French.) The Italian phrase pittura grottesca "grotto painting" was a popular expression for murals revealed by excavations of Roman ruins in Italy. Since these pictures were often mutilated by the scrape of time, the meaning of grottesca shifted to "distorted, misshaped". (Today we owe a note of gratitude to Perry Lassiter, a Grand Panjandrum of the Alpha Agora, for suggesting this oddly beautiful treat as a Good Word.)