Printable Version
Pronunciation: -gê-tel Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A trifle, trinket, any insignificant thing of little value. 2. A short, light piece of music. 3. Several games played on an oblong table (large or small) with balls that drop in holes.

Notes: Did you ever wonder what the game was called that required you to roll a ball down a slanted board and into holes to score? Well, it's a bagatelle. Some bagatelles are bigger and require a stick to push the ball. Bagatelle is a lexical orphan: no derivations.

In Play: bagatelleI've always associated this word with jewelry. That is how it is most often used in French and Italian: "Maude Lynn Dresser arrived at the soiree dripping in bling, including several bagatelles she picked up in India." But let's not forget the game: "We bounce through life like a bagatelle ball, careening off chance encounters, unforeseen obstacles and opportunities, and lucky breaks."

Word History: This is obviously a French word, one borrowed from Italian bagatella, diminutive of dialectal bagata "little property". Whence bagata, no one knows. It has been posited by some that it comes from Latin baca "berry". This is a highly unlikely source, since it leaves open the questions, where the T comes from and what is the semantic connection? Others have suggested Old French bague "bundle" and Italian baga "leather bag", but, again, where did the T come from? Clearly, the word comprises bagat + French -elle, from Latin -ella, a feminine diminutive suffix. The closest word semantically is bagatino, a small coin used in Venice in the 13th-15th centuries. However, this word is masculine, so would require -ello in Italian and -el in French, even if we could find a published example of the underlying word + suffix together.

Dr. Goodword,

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