• ballon •
Pronunciation: bæ-lawN • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Buoyancy in the leaps of ballet dancers, the lightness that seems to suspend a dancer in thin air.
Notes: If you thought today's word was balloon, you are not far off point, as the Word History will explain. Ballon is the stuff that makes balloons rise applied metaphorically to dancers, as a dancer who leaps with great ballon. Notice that this word is so fresh from French that it still carries the French pronunciation with the nasal [aw] sound at the end. Ballon came with its family from France: a balloné is a ballet leap with one leg out while landing on the other. We also got the idea of a trial balloon from this word, for ballon d'essai is still encountered in some publishing quarters.
In Play: Today's Good Word has been a captive of the ballet: "Nijinsky was a dancer of absolute aplomb and stunning ballon." However, it is time to bring this word out into the real world: "Cody Fendant dodged the tough questions from the prosecutor with exquisite finesse and ballon."
Word History: I love words that are borrowed back and forth between Romance and Germanic languages. Here is another. It originated in one of the Germanic languages as ball, which Old Italian borrowed as balla "ball" (palla in Modern Italian). A big ball in 17th century northern Italy was a ballone, just as a big, hearty soup (minestra) is a minestrone. Middle French then borrowed this word as ballon, which the world's most indebted language, English, borrowed twice: once as today's Good Word and again as balloon. (We wish we had balloons for celebrating Michael Martin's suggestion of today's rare but exciting Good Word. Alas, gratitude is our only bunting.)