• offbeat •
Part of Speech: Noun, Adjective
Meaning: 1. [Noun] An unaccented beat in a musical measure, the upbeat. 2. [Adjective] Unusual, not conforming to conventions, oddball.
Notes: This good word comes with a family of nouns that has taken up adjective habits as they passed out of the world of music. The noun upbeat is used adjectivally in the sense of "happy, positive" while downbeat means "negative, unhappy". There are no regular derivations such as an adverb or noun for any of them, though offbeatness is used informally. (My spellchecker is frowning with its curly red line.)
In Play: Anytime you wish to describe something as individualistic in a slightly mysterious way, offbeat is probably the word you will need: "Lucy Lastik led an offbeat life that even her best friends felt uncomfortable with." Anything that doesn't fit the pattern is offbeat: "Rhoda Book produced several novels about an offbeat detective who lived in a train car but started each day with a champagne breakfast."
Word History: Today's is another Good Word imported from the world of jazz alongside blues, hip, cool, swing, and many others. The beat of a piece of music, of course, is its rhythm. The space between two beats is the offbeat. The word beat is an ancient member of the Indo-European vocabulary. In Russian it is bit' (beet') "hit, beat" and in French it is battre, where our word battery as in "assault and battery" came from. Of course, the part of the body that struck our ancestors as a good target for beatings, the butt(ock), draws its name from the same ultimate root.
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