• svelte •
Pronunciation: svelt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Slim, slender, lithe. 2. Sophisticated, eloquent, self-assured, smooth and graceful.
Notes: Today's Good Word has not been successfully assimilated into English, and hence it has no derivational family. It is a loner because SV is not a natural consonant combination for English. Words like svelte, Svengali, and Svetlana are clearly foreign and will remain so for some time to come. The only thing to look out for is the silent E on the end of svelte.
In Play: Anything slender and posh may be considered svelte: "Gilda Lilly's dad ordered a svelte stretch limousine to take her and her date to the high school prom." Gilda, by the way, cut a svelte figure herself in her clingy pink evening gown with the open back. When used in reference to people, this word implies a level of sophistication as well as a trim figure: "June McBride came to the party with a svelte gentleman who wooed all the ladies with his smooth, almost poetic, conversation."
Word History: Today's word is French svelte "slim, slender", borrowed from Italian svelto "slim, slender". Italian seems to have inherited this word from a Vulgar (Street) Latin verb exvellere "to pluck, pull out", based on Latin ex "out of, out from" + vellere "to pluck, pull", as to pluck feathers or hairs. This verb turned out to be svellere "to remove completely, eradicate" in Modern Italian but its past participle, svelto, came to be used as an adjective meaning "stretched out", hence "slender". All this happened while the initial E was eroded away and the X (pronounced [ks]) was reduced to a simple S. (Today we are grateful to Trent Palelei, who made the svelte suggestion that we run today's very Good Word.)