• hauteur •
Pronunciation: ho-tur • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: Snobbishly arrogant condescension.
Notes: Adjectives describing the high and mighty all seem to have come from the French word for "high", haut. For some odd reason, our ancestors inserted the silent GH the first time we borrowed haut, giving us haughty. We probably didn't even recognize the identity of the original word when we later borrowed it in hauteur. The noun suffix -eur appears on several other borrowed French words, such as grandeur, chauffeur, liqueur, and entrepreneur. Haut appears mostly in phrases, like haute couture "high fashion" and haute cuisine "high cuisine".
In Play: Today's Good Word was borrowed for those situations where more sophistication is called for than snobbish and snotty provide: "Malcolm dominated the board meetings with a hauteur one might expect of a man with more money than the other members of the board combined." The word itself is so snobbish that it begs to be used facetiously: "I don't think I can endure the hauteur of His Majesty, the new mailroom manager, lording it over his three minions."
Word History: Hauteur is the French word for "height", composed of haut "high" + -eur, noun suffix. Haut "high" (silent H) is the output of the French language grinder working a few centuries on Latin altus "grown, high, tall". We find the Latin original in several borrowed English words, such as altitude, altimeter, the device for measuring altitude, and altophobia, the fear of heights. The raised platform in churches and temples, the altar, probably took its name from the same word. In the Germanic languages this word assumed a different character. The basic root, al-, seems to have originally meant "to grow". That would make alt- the past participle, meaning "grown". In the Germanic languages this was interpreted in terms of time, and so the word turns up in German as alt "old" and as old in English.