• demimonde •
de-mi-mahnd • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A class of women supported by wealthy lovers, the world of prostitution. 2. A class of those whose respectability is dubious, who are just outside the respectable world.
Notes: Demimonde is a tad archaic now, but it still appears occasionally in the writings of the well-read and in older publications. Be careful to use it only with those with an arcane, slightly passé vocabulary.
In Play: This word usually carries a smell of disrespectability: "Ally Katz moved about in the demimonde before becoming a highly paid model." The demimonde can also refer to a healthy subculture: "Hippies, who formed a subcultural demimonde in the 60s, left their mark on the mainstream American."
Word History: Today's Good Word was a compound noun in Old French comprising demi "half, almost" + monde "world". Demi- came from Latin dimidius "half, one-half", which originally contained the elements dis- "apart" + medius "middle". Obviously, English inherited the same PIE word as mid(dle), and borrowed medium and moderate. The Latin word ended up as mezzo in Italian, in such compounds as mezzanine and mezzo-soprano, borrowed by English. Old French monde "world" derived from Latin mundus "world, universe". Mundus had an adjective, mundanus "worldly" from which English mundane ultimately derived. Where mundus came from remains a mystery. It is unrelated to the adjective mundus "clean, elegant" for semantic reasons. (Today we owe our gratitude to the poet Mary Jane Turner, who uses our Good Words on our Facebook page as a springboard for her verses.)
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