• purlieu •
pêr-lyoo • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An outlying area or region, outskirts. 2. A haunt, a bailiwick, a place you are familiar with, visit frequently, or where you are at home.
Notes: Today's Good Word is often confused with another one, purview "scope, range, limits of one's sphere" with a very similar meaning. A question may fall within the purview of someone's expertise even when they are out of their normal purlieu. The spelling of today's word is easier if you remember that it contains the same lieu found in the phrase in lieu of "in place of". (That is also it in lieutenant, which meant "place holder" or "replacement" in Old French.)
In Play: This word is interesting because it is a sort of contronym, a word with two opposing meanings. It usually means a place you frequent: "The Eaton Inn was Hiram's customary purlieu of an evening." However, it can also mean just the edges or outskirts of an area, physical or abstract: "Les Cheatham spent his life lurking in the penumbrous purlieus of legality."
Word History: In Middle English the ancestor of today's word, purlewe, meant "a piece of land on the edge of a forest". It was probably an alteration of Old French porale "royal stroll" from poraler "to walk across", based on por-, "forth" + aler (now aller) "to go", a relative of English alley. Poraler shifted to puraler when borrowed into English, where it was confused with French lieu "place", becoming purlieu. The French word lieu (would you believe it?) started out as Latin locus "place", which English also uses. (We are happy today that Lew Jury bumped into this word in his purlieu and that he mentioned it to us as a Good Word candidate.)
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