• quaint •
kwaynt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Simple and old-fashioned, as a quaint cottage by the lake. 2. Charmingly odd, attractively unfamiliar or unusual, as a quaint accent. 3. Cunning, crafty, cleverly made, artful or even ingenious, as a quaint machine for printing money.
Notes: Today's Good Word is also one of the softest and loveliest in the language. It is a happy fellow with an equally lovely and supportive family, including an adverb, quaintly, and a noun quaintness. A quaintance, of course, is the same as an acquaintance in dialects that tend to ignore an initial unaccented syllable, and an acquaintance is someone you know. But that shouldn't surprise us given the origin of this delightful expression.
In Play: Today the meaning of quaint has worn down to a sense of simple and old-fashioned: "I hear Dr. Goodword lives in a quaint little Pennsylvania Dutch town on the banks of the Susquehanna." It still retains its sense of something slightly odd, misplaced: "The quaint 1940s clothes Prudence Pender wears are a perfect match for that quaint Southern accent of hers."
Word History: This Good Word appeared in English in the early thirteenth century meaning "cunning, clever, ingenious". It was a makeover of Old French cointe (also quaintly misspelled as queint) "pretty, clever, knowing". This word is the remainder of Latin cognitus "known" after centuries of French polishing. The Latin word is the past participle of cognoscere "to come to know", a verb that also underlies English cognizant. It is made up of co(n)- "with" gnoscere "to know", based on the well-known Proto-Indo-European root gno- "to know". Yes, it also went into the making of English know. So, quaint and know started out 6000 or so years ago as the same word. That word changed as Latin and the Germanic languages split and changed in different ways over the course of the ensuing centuries. At the end of the process, English borrowed the French version to add to its own rendition of the root. (Today we thank the anything but quaint Jackie Strauss for suggesting today's quaint little Good Word.)
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