• aloof •
ê-luf • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Disengaged, distant, detached, remote, indifferent.
Notes: Since today's Good Word begins with an A, it is often misperceived as what I call a "defective adjective", like aboard, aground, and afoot. These adjectives can only appear in predicate position, never before a noun. You can't say 'the aboard passenger' or 'the aground ship'. You can say 'an aloof attitude', however, so aloof appears to be a regular adjective that we seldom hear before nouns. The adverb is aloofly and the noun, aloofness.
In Play: Political candidates must consume calorie bombs when campaigning, lest they seem too aloof from voters: "Martha Shipley seems aloof from her constituency and disinterested in their problems." Cats can be more aloof than dogs: "Cat Baloo became aloof and distant when asked about the whereabouts of her husband, leading many to surmise that they had parted company."
Word History: This word is made up of a- + Middle English loof "windward direction", probably from Dutch maritime vocabulary te loef "to windward". The word might have been influenced by Middle French au louf du vent "to the windward side", which reduced to an interjection olof!, used to turn a ship towards the wind. The original use in nautical language referred to a technique of keeping a ship clear of the lee (windless) shore of an island. This sense developed into the more general English senses of keeping physical and emotional distance from something. English also has a word luff in the sense of "the windward side of a ship", though rarely used these days for obvious reasons. (Our far from aloof South African friend of many years, Chris Stewart, recommended today's fascinating Good Word.)
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