• seraglio •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A part of a Turkish palace in the days of the Ottoman Empire where wives and concubines were secluded or confined; a lavish harem. 2. The palace of a Turkish sultan, especially the one in Istanbul. 3. A place of confinement (a bit archaic).
Notes: This Good Word stands alone both in the beauty of its sound and as a lexical orphan. It is so beautiful, you want to find uses for it, glossing over its dark history. The plural is simple: seraglios.
In Play: We could salvage the beauty of this word by simply updating its meaning: "I can remember how, as a child, I much preferred the seraglio of happy voices and sensuous perfumes in my grandmother's kitchen to the smoke-sodden company of the men in the living room." Women do seclude themselves voluntarily these days for good reason. Such situations inevitably tempt today's Good Word, "She was attracted by a seraglio of women, escaping their husbands for a weekend, chatting happily around a table by the window."
Word History: Today's word is an almost perfect copy of Italian serraglio "enclosure". This word probably came from a Vulgar Latin word never recorded, *serraculum "enclosure", which could have been derived from Latin serare "to bolt", a verb based on sera "door-bar, doorbolt". The Italian word may also have been influenced by Turkish saray "palace", taken from Persian saray "inn". The Turkish version can also be found in Russian today, meaning "barn". (Today we owe a debt of gratitude to Luis Alejandro Apiolaza for the musically well-tuned ear that spotted seraglio. Talk with him about his word in the Alpha Agora.)