Printable Version
Pronunciation: fri-vê-lês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Of little or no value, insignificant, trifling, as 'a frivolous lawsuit'. 2. Glib, whimsical, silly, as 'a frivolous girl'.

Notes: The pretty noun for this adjective is frivolity. However, the clunkier frivolousness seems to be pushing it aside today. It may be used as an adverb if we add the suffix -ly to it: frivolously.

In Play: Frivolity can be taken for better or worse. For the better it can indicate extreme happiness, even silliness: "Kaye Syrah leads a frivolous life, involved in nothing deeper than a crème brûlée." For the worse, it can refer to the bothersome: "Susan Liddy-Gates's suit for divorce from her husband based on his leaving the toilet seat up was thrown out of court as frivolous."

Word History: English borrowed this word twice: before and after French had a go at it. It was borrowed directly from Latin frivolus, and French frivole, the descendant of the Latin word. In English it was spelled frivol, a word seldom used today. Latin frivolus "silly, trifling, worthless" was the diminutive of frivos "broken, crumbled", an adjective based on friare "to break, crumble". Latin apparently inherited the words from PIE bhr(e)i- "pierce, cut", which also turned up in Russian as britva "razor" and brit' "shave". It picked up a [k] in the Germanic languages and became break and German Brocken "chunk, piece".

Dr. Goodword,

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