• roundelay •
Pronunciation: ræwn-dê-lay • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A simple song with a recurring refrain. 2. A slow, medieval dance performed in a circle.
Notes: Roundelay is a derivative of roundel, which may refer to almost anything round, as well as a roundelay. It may be spelled and pronounced, rondelay, though most dictionaries consider this spelling obsolete. A composer of roundelays may be called a roundeleer, but this word seems to be based on roundel.
In Play: The first sense of today's word is used only literally: "Hermione's choral group was known for its arrangements of medieval roundelays". The second meaning is mostly used figuratively today, referring to anything repetitive: "Throckmorton's latest film is just a roundelay of sex and murder overlaid by another roundelay of machismo and tenderness."
Word History: This word was hijacked from Middle French rondelet and Anglicized by folk etymology. In French it was the diminutive of rondel "small circle", itself diminutive of Old French rond "circle, sphere". The French word rondelet came to be used to refer to simple songs with a recurring refrain before English borrowed it. Both round and rond probably came from a nasalized version of the same PIE word that became Latin rota "wheel" (see Fickle N). Latin inherited this word from PIE ret-/rot- "to run, roll", which we find in no Indo-European language other than Latin. Lay originally meant "a short song", probably borrowed from Irish laí(d) "poem, lay, metrical verse" or Scots Gaelic laoidh "ballad, anthem, song". We find nothing beyond Gaelic. (Today's Good Word is the latest in a roundelay of illustrious suggestions by George Kovac of Miami, Florida.)