Printable Version
Pronunciation: bêr-lesk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Anything that ridicules or caricatures its subject, such as a theatrical burlesque. 2. A ribald variety show with comic acts, dancing, and striptease, often called a burlesque show.

Notes: Never criticize English for using two letters like CH to represent only one sound, as in choir or psyche; French uses three (QUE) to represent the sound [k] at the end of words. Today's Good Word is a good example. Don't forget this rule when you use burlesque or similar ones with the ending -esque. You may use this word as a verb, to burlesque a subject, which provides for an adjective and noun the usual way: burlesquing.

In Play: In the US today's Good Word is generally wasted on a vulgar form of vaudeville focusing on striptease that disappeared around the 70s: "There are websites today that make a burlesque show look like a Sunday school class." But a burlesque is anything that, intentionally or unintentionally, caricatures the real thing: "That meeting this morning was a burlesque of a staff meeting: the boss did all the talking while we sat around quietly nodding."

Word History: Today's Good Word was traced shamelessly from the French word meaning "comical" without any change in the spelling. Of course, the French took it over from Italian burlesco with minimal change. The Italian word is based on burla "joke, put-on", a word the Italians picked up from Spanish. Spanish inherited the word from Late Latin burrae "nonsense", which came from burra "a shaggy (raw) wool garment". I would have to pull the wool over your eyes if I tried to explain the connection between "wool" and "burlesque". (Today we thank Samuel Keays for suggesting a funny little Good Word that has done the circuit of European languages.)

Dr. Goodword,

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