• denouement •
day-nu-meN • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The clarification and unraveling of all mystery at the end of a drama or other narrative work of art, usually following the climax. 2. The resolution of a complex set of events that makes everything clear to everyone.
Notes: Today's Good Word is out there all alone. It has only been in the language since the latter half of the 18th century, so it has changed little. There is a trick to its spelling, though: be sure to include the second E which, with the equally silent O, sandwiches the vowel representing the actual sound of the second syllable, U.
In Play: A denouement is not simply a climax but one that resolves all outstanding issues: "The denouement of their long and convoluted divorce proceeding was a decision to make up and continue living together." We often see a play or movie that builds up to a climax, then offers a final discussion of any issues that might be left unclear: "Each episode of the TV series Murder, She Wrote concludes with a denouement in which the heroine, J. B. Fletcher, explains all remaining unclear aspects of the crime she has just solved."
Word History: Today's Good Word has all the properties of the French word it is—we can even accent the first E, if we wish: dénouement. That accent marks the spot where the S of Old French desnouement "untying, releasing" disappeared. That noun came from the verb desnouer "to undo", made up of des- "un-" + nouer "to tie". The French word for "tie" is based on the noun nœud "knot", a historical reduction of Latin nodus "knot", which, by the way, English also touched up to make node. We changed the same word quite a bit more to create the word noose. The same Proto-Indo-European stem came directly to English via its Germanic ancestors as net and nettle. The fibers of nettles long ago went into the making of rope and cord. (The denouement of today's Good Word is this note thanking Mark Bailey for bringing it to our attention.)
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