• barrage •
bahr-ij, bê-rahzh • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. (Engineering) A dam, barrier, or other obstruction built in a stream to create an area of deeper water or to divert the stream's flow. 2. A heavy, overwhelming outpouring that prevents response, such as a barrage of artillery fire or barrage of words.
Notes: Today's Good Word has at least two pronunciations that correspond to the two meanings above. Barrage in the sense of a dam is pronounced [bahr-ij] in the US while in the sense of an overwhelming outpouring it is pronounced [bê-rahzh]. This latter pronunciation is in the process of being Anglicized, so don't be surprised to hear [bê-rahj] from time to time.
In Play: The sense that today's word has in engineering is closer to the sense of the verb "to bar" and for that reason is pronounced as though it was based on bar: "The kids loved to build barrages in the stream behind the house and catch the minnows that collected behind it." The other sense is by far more common: "Congressman Mander received a barrage of questions from reporters about the fur coat he had recently given to his secretary."
Word History: Today's Good Word is purely French in origin, which is why the accent is on the final syllable and the G is pronounced [zh]. It is a noun derived from the verb barrer "to bar, to stop," from the noun barre "a bar, barrier". This is the same word that became bar when borrowed by English. I have mentioned before that French is Latin as it is spoken today in France (Spanish is Latin as spoken today in Spain, Italian, Latin as it is spoken today in Italy, and so on for all Romance languages). The language spoken in France before the arrival of the Romans was a Celtic language called "Gaulish", sometimes "Gallic". Barre came from that language. The sense of a barrage of artillery fire came from the French phrase tir de barrage "curtain of fire", first used in World War I. (OK, time for a barrage of thanks to Thel Casper for suggesting today's very interesting Good Word.)
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