• brace •
brays • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Two of the same thing, as a brace of pheasant.
Notes: The Oxford English Dictionary lists 7 words spelled brace but we are only interested in one today. It is related to bracelet which, in Old French, meant "armlet", and brassiere, originally French meaning "a child's jacket (with arms)". A brace is a number equal to the number of arms we have and at one time, like fathom, meant "the width of both arms wide open". It is of course distantly related to embrace "to enclose in two arms". The French word behind all these English words is bras "arm, arms" today.
In Play: We can, of course, say "four bracelets" when the need arises, but using brace adds a touch of class to whatever we say: "Maud Lynn Dresser always wears two brace of bracelets on each arm whenever she is in public." This word is used most often in referring to the quarry of the hunt, however: "I saw Phil Anders at the club last night with a brace of girls clinging to his arms." (The ambivalence of this expression would be particularly poignant if Phil had been tippling and was a bit woozy on his feet.)
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken from Old French brace "two arms" by Middle English. The French word was the remainder of Vulgar (street) Latin bracchia "arms", the plural of bracchium. Latin had borrowed this word from Greek brakhion "upper arm". This word also meant "shorter" from brakhus "short", since the upper arm is shorter than the forearm. Now, a medieval monk once designed a biscuit in the shape of arms in prayer. He picked a name for that biscuit based on Latin bracchiatus "having arms" from bracchia mentioned above, and named it a bracchitellus. The Italians reduced this word to bracciello and our German ancestors reduced that word to a mere bretzel (Brezel in German today). From bretzel to pretzel was but a short skip for English when it borrowed the older German word. (A double brace of thanks to that guy Bill Guy for suggesting today's Good Word.)