• soupçon •
Pronunciation: sup-sawN • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: No, this is not a call to dinner but a noun indicating a very, very small amount, a scintilla, a trace—far less than would be expected for dinner.
Notes: Of course, you may spell today's word with a younger, beardless C: soupcon. However, to achieve the maximum impact of the French words you use in your writing, you should decorate them with the appropriate diacritical appendages.
In Play: Today's word refers to the tiniest trace imaginable: "Miss Tate found that the soupçon of French she acquired in high school was of no value on her vacation in Provence." We are talking about a mere scintilla: "Allan caught the barest soupçon of a smile on Glenda's face when he dropped the ice cream cone in his lap." The English correlate of today's word (see Word History) produces an equally creative metaphor: "There was not even a suspicion of food left on Sarah Belham's plate."
Word History: Here is another example of English simply helping itself to French vocabulary. French soupçon is a reduction of Old French sospeçon "suspicion" from Latin suspectionis, the noun from suspicere "to suspect." This Latin verb comes from the sense of "to look up at" from sub "below" and specere "to look at." The root here is the same as that in despicable, from Latin despicare "to look down on," based on de "down" + "specere." So how could skeptic derive from the same root? This word comes from Greek, where the P and K metathesized, i.e. changed places. That is why all the Greek stems in English meaning "see, look at" show the consonant sounds in the same (reverse) order: telescope, microscope, etc