• jaunty •
jawn-tee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Sprightly, lively, cheerful, upbeat, self-confident, chipper. 2. Dapper in appearance, natty, spiffy, strikingly stylish.
Notes: Today's Good Word is all the more enjoyable because it sounds so colloquial: it has a jaunty air about it. It comes with an adverb, jauntily, and a noun, jauntiness.
In Play: The sense of this word is perhaps best captured by music: "The block party featured dancing in the street to jaunty reggae music." Here is a sentence with both senses of today's word: "Whenever Natalie Cladde came to work with a jaunty walk, she would be wearing a jaunty cap or jacket."
Word History: First of all, today's word is wholly unrelated to the word jaunt "a short trip", a word whose origins remain a mystery. English, as I have said before, has the most enormous appetite for words from other languages. English borrowed the French word gentil (pronounced [zhaNtee]) "high-born, noble, elegant, sophisticated" three times. In the early 1200s English tasted this word for the first time when the L was still pronounced. After a series of phonetic and semantic changes it arrived at our doorstep as gentle. But this did not accurately reflect the French pronunciation (see above), so while some allowed for the changes that brought us to gentle, others tried to retain the French pronunciation. By the middle of the 17th century this pronunciation had become another word, this Good Word. The first written forms were jantee and janty, accented on the end. English speakers finally agreed on jaunty, but by that time the meaning of the word had also changed. English so enjoyed this so much, it feasted on the feminine form (gentille) of the same word at the end of the 16th century and turned it into genteel. French was English's favorite lexical restaurant and gentil was, apparently, a favorite dish. (Today's gratitude is owed the ever jaunty Rob Towart for recommending this Good Word.)
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