• brio •
bree-o • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: Liveliness, sprightliness, vigor, high spirits, verve, zing, gusto, enthusiasm
Notes: Brio is what I like to call a lexical orphan, for it has no verbal relations: no adjective or verb has been derived from it. It is used only rarely, usually by musicians and accomplished writers. Still, it is a solid general term that is available to all of us who speak English.
In Play: It is not that we lack words for this human characteristic (see Meaning), it is just that this Good Word's association with music makes it a tad prettier than its synonyms: "The trio sang with brio, but the accordionist couldn't keep up." This makes it less harsh when we need to express the sentiment in a negative context: "Lester, could you clean up your room with a little more brio; I would like to see it clean before I get so old that my eyes fail me."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a gift of the music world to our general vocabulary. In music, the Italian phrase con brio means "with spirit, verve, energy" and it was via this phrase that our word today crept into the general language. Italian borrowed the word from Spanish, which apparently borrowed it from Provençal briu. This word came from some Celtic language, probably Breton, for it goes back to a Celtic root brig-o- "strength". The Celtic word had relatives in many other Indo-European languages, such as Greek barus "heavy", which underlies such English borrowings as baritone and barometer. Italian and Portuguese briga "quarrel" also come from the same source; in Spanish it is brega. (We hope our gratitude to Ralph Mowery for suggesting today's Good Word adds a bit of brio to his life.)
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