• physique •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The proportions and shape of muscular development of the human body.
Notes: Today's is a word that has retained its French spelling and pronunciation. To change it would run into to problems of confusion with its ancestors which we borrowed directly from Latin (see Word History). It has produced an adjective, physiqued "having a physique", as in poorly physiqued, which implies that a verb might be lurking beneath it.
In Play: Here is a word you can substitute for figure over a candlelight dinner: "I'll have to pass on dessert; I have to watch my physique." "Enjoy dessert; I'll watch your physique." I'll let your imagination fill in the gender of the conversationalists. Generally, however, the word is associated with weight-lifting: "Horace has the physique of Superman and, like Superman, is up in the air a lot of the time."
Word History: Today's word is a good example of how much mileage English can get from the same original term given enough time. This word we copied from French physique, inherited from Latin physicus, which we also borrowed for physics and physician, to mention only two. Latin borrowed the word from Greek physikos "natural", the adjective of physis "nature". The Greek word comes from PIE bheu- "to grow" + the suffix -s. Now, initial [bh] generally became [f] in Latin (which is how English got furnace from Latin when the same root turned up in English as burn). So we would expect to find words related to Latin physicus [fisikus] to begin with B in the Germanic languages. So we do: in German we find Bauer "farmer", who grows things. Bauer is the equivalent of Dutch boer "farmer", which became the English word (Boer) for the Dutch in South Africa before the issue of whether the Dutch or English were to run that country was settled.
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