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frippery

Printable Version Pronunciation: frip-êr-ee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Pretentious, showy finery; ostentation itself. 2. Something petty, insignificant, a triviality.

Notes: Today's Good Word is almost an oxymoron: today it refers to elegant, even overelegant clothing, but we know that frippery started out referring to old, worn-out clothing or the shop where such clothing is sold. This is the sense Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote, in The Tempest iv. l, "We know what belongs to a frippery." That meaning, however, hasn't been around for more than a century, having glided into the second meaning above: an insignificant triviality.

In Play: Today's word is still used most frequently in reference to showy clothing: "Maud Lynn Dresser has no taste in clothes, so she is constantly trying to impress her friends by wearing the latest in ready-made frippery." We may also use this word to refer to small, insignificant items collectively: "Maud Lynn's dresser is covered with combs, brushes, face creams, cosmetics, and all the other frippery of a modern day slave to vanity."

Word History: Frippery originally referred to rags of all sorts, to odds and ends. The word comes from French friperie "second-hand clothes and furniture", from fripe "a rag". Frip evolved from Old French frepe "old clothes" via an odd change even for French, from an older form felpe. Felpe was the descendant of Medieval Latin faluppa "rubbish". No one seems to know where faluppa came from. (Today we would like to thank Kenny Williams of Brewer High School in Fort Worth, Texas, for seeing far more than frippery in the word frippery.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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