• billet-doux •
bee-lay-du • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: No, today's word does not refer to nice lodgings for soldiers (but see the Notes). In fact, it is a term meaning "a short love note" or "love letter" used by die-hard romantics.
Notes: Today's romantic word is so fresh from French, it still uses not only some of the French pronunciation but also the French plural: billets-doux, pronounced [beelay-duz]. Remember, only the first element is pluralized in writing but the second element is pronounced in the plural. The pronunciation remains close to the French, too, unlike that of older billet "lodging for soldiers", which has endured long enough to assume the sounds of English, [bil-et].
In Play: When "love note" is simply too harsh a phrase for the tenderness of emotion involved, it is time to call in today's Good Word: "Wade always included a billet-doux in the bouquets he sent Tiffany Lampe, the light of his life." Unfortunately, this word has remained so French that it is usually used facetiously, "The hickey Tiffany left on Wade's neck is quite a little billet-doux from her, too."
Word History: Today's word is a French phrase made up of billet + doux "sweet". Billet today means "ticket, receipt" in French but it originally meant "a short note". This billet is not to be confused with the military billet mentioned in the Notes above. That billet originally referred to the document ordering a building be used to lodge soldiers. It comes from Old French billette, a corruption of bullette, meaning a small bulle, a seal or sealed document. This word is heard today in the phrase "Papal bull", an official document bearing the seal of the Pope. Doux is the French variant of Latin dulcis "sweet", which also became Spanish dulce and Italian dolce in La Dolce Vita, the movie that brought Federico Fellini to the world's attention.
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