• pulchritude •
Pronunciation: pêl-krê-tyud • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: Lavish physical beauty.
Notes: This word is used much more often in the US than elsewhere in the English-speaking world, probably because it is less lovely than lovely itself. All the worse for the rest of the world, since this word is an expression of intensive beauty that avoids the bother of additional epithets, such as extreme and exorbitant. The adjective is pulchritudinous, a bit long but effective in catching ears when ears need to be caught.
In Play: Pulchritude is limited to physical beauty rather than the abstract kinds of beauty found in actions, personalities, and such: "Marjorie was a vision of feminine pulchritude that Randolph couldn't forget for days." Of course, physical pulchritude resides all around us, not just in ourselves: "The sumptuous pulchritude of the mountains dressed in the hot fall colors of hardwood forests was more than Mortimer's camera could capture."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from Latin pulchritudo "beauty", the noun from pulcher "beautiful, fair in appearance". The Latin word had an abstract or moral sense as well as the physical one: "fine, noble, honorable", unlike its English counterpart. Several words seem related to this word except for an inexplicable replacement of the [L] with an [R], for example, Latin parere "bright or shining", German Farbe "color", and perhaps even German Forelle, that colorful fish, the trout. However, all these associations are highly speculative. (Today we thank Chris Berry for momentarily beautifying our lives with this pulchritudinous name for beauty.)