• rococo •
rê-ko-ko • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, noun
Meaning: 1. The excessively ornate late baroque style of architecture and furniture of Continental Europe of the 18th century, characterized by a profusion of curly scrolls, foliage, and animal forms (see illustration). 2. Extravagantly ornate, grandiloquent, florid style of speech, writing, thought, or music,
Notes: This French word is an oddity even for French, so it comes as a surprise that it has produced even two lexical relatives. They are rococoesque "remindful of rococo" and rocococity "the quality of being excessively mannered or outmoded". The latter is an oddity itself, alive today only because Huxley and Fitzgerald used it.
In Play: This word may be used as an adjective or noun. As an adjective, we might say, "Art Decco creates charming teaware decorated with flowers and children in the rococo manner." As a noun, we could say, "Michael Angelo's brushwork is loose and somewhat melodramatic with a touch of the rococo." But don't forget the figurative sense: "We never know what will come out of that rococo mind of hers."
Word History: Etymologists are a bit in the dark as to the source of this word in French. They think it may have started out as French rocaille "rockery, rock garden", influenced by Italian barocco "baroque". The word in Modern French means "rococo" but also "outmoded, old-fashioned". It comes from roc "rock" a variant of roche from Vulgar (Street) Latin rocca. One etymologist has suggested that it was created from the first syllable of rocaille + the first syllable in coquillage "shellwork". The latter word is derived from coquille "shell", famous all over the world for its appearance in the culinary term coquille Saint Jacques "scallops on the half shell". This interpretation is supported by the frequent appearance of shells in rococo designs. (Time to thank the complex mind of Tony Bowden of London for his kindness in sharing today's Good Word with us.)
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