• oeuvre •
Pronunciation: u-vrê or œvr (French) • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A creative work or body of creative work.
Notes: The pronunciation of this recent French borrowing remains unpredictable. Of course, if you know French, you may pronounce it as do the French with an initial rounded [e] sound by pronouncing [e] while puckering your lips. Otherwise, it is pronounced [u] alone. It pronounced [e] in the borrowed phrase chef d'oeuvre [she-de-vrê] "masterpiece", (plural chefs d'oeuvre pronounced the same as the singular). It is pronounced [ê] in hors d'oeuvre [or-dêrv] "appetizer" (plural hors d'oeuvres).
In Play: Today's word is usually reserved for reference to enduring works of art, "Mark Twain's novel, Tom Sawyer, was an oeuvre, daring in its exposure of the injustices of slavery." It applies to any form of artistic endeavor, "The complete oeuvre of Picasso spans many periods and schools of art." Applying it elsewhere will be interpreted humorously: "We hang all of Tabitha's oeuvres on the refrigerator door."
Word History: Today's word was borrowed so recently from French, so we have not yet resolved its pronunciation in English. It devolved from Latin opera "works" the plural of opus. French then worked it over to make it œuvre. Sanskrit apas "work" and German üben "practice, exercise" derive from the same ultimate PIE root. A related word, maneuver (British manoeuvre) was borrowed from French manœuvre, a compound derived from Latin manu operare "to work by hand". The same word was borrowed earlier in Middle English as manuren "to cultivate land" a verb to which we owe modern manure. Office owes its existence to Latin officium "service", a reduction of opificium (opi-fic-ium) from opus "work" and -ficere, the combining form of facere "do, make".