• gamine •
Pronunciation: gæ-meen • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A slender, boyishly attractive and playfully mischievous young woman.
Notes: Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday is the archetype gamine. This word is the French feminine variant of French gamin "mischievous kid, cheeky street urchin". The semantics separates the two. Still, the pair share an adjective, gaminesque "like a gamin or gamine", and a noun, gaminerie "the characteristics of a gamin or gamine".
In Play: Gamine carries a slight implication of tom-boyishness: "Polly was rather slender and preferred a gamine haircut for the man's world she lived in." It also suggests something of a devilish playfulness: "It was hard to equate the gamine 'girl-next-door' woman standing before me with the singer and actress who could not leave the house without stirring controversy."
Word History: English, yet again, picked this Good Word up from French, probably of eastern dialectal French origin. French seems to have borrowed it from Middle High German gamel "game, fun, mirth" + the French diminutive suffix -in. Gamel is variant of gamen "game", akin to Old English gamen "game" which, as today, could be used as an adjective meaning "willing, or eager to do something". Gamble was once a diminutive of game, so the sense "mischievous" could have developed from "risky behavior". (Let's all now thank William Hupy for discovering today's almost lost Good Word and sharing it with us.)