• scarlet •
skah(r)-let • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. [Adjective] Vividly or brilliantly red. 2. [Adjective] Flagrantly immoral or unchaste. 3. [Noun] The color scarlet. 4. [Noun] Scarlet cloth or clothing.
Notes: Today's word has two contradictory metaphorical senses. On the one hand, scarlet thoughts are highly immoral thoughts. On the other hand, the cardinals of the Catholic Church are associated with scarlet, the color of their robes. In fact, the male feathered cardinal is also scarlet, confirming the close association of these two words.
In Play: In literature today's Good Word is famous as the color of the scarlet letter "A" (for adultery), branded on adulterers in Puritanical Massachusetts around the time of the Salem witch trials. In its sense of immoral, it is still most closely associated with women: "Rumor has it that Lucy Lastik was a scarlet woman before joining the company and working her way up to Vice President for Human Relations."
Word History: We have talked about many relatives of Latin sequi "follow" in the past, but not scarlet—yes, scarlet. This word meant "scarlet cloth" in Old French whence English acquired it. It descended to French from Medieval Latin scarlata, a borrowing from Persian saqirlat "rich or scarlet cloth". Persian took this word from Arabic siqillat which seems to have come from Greek. However, here the thread is broken. We have to assume that Medieval Greek borrowed Latin sigillatus "decorated with raised figures" from sigilla "seals, little fitures" and passed it on to Arabic traders. Unfortunately, we lack hard evidence that Greek made such a borrowing.
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