• nosegay •
noz-gay • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A small, fragrant bouquet of flowers or herbs, used for decoration.
Notes: Nosegay is still alive and well, especially in the floral business but also wherever floral decorations might be used. This word is a lexical orphan.
In Play: Fewer flowers today have fragrance due to the breeding efforts of their producers: "The bridesmaids carried nosegays of violets surrounding a red rose." Most herbs have retained their fragrance: "The tables were decorated with herbal nosegays comprising rosemary, marjoram and sage." This word may be used creatively in its metaphorical senses: "The party was decorated with nosegays of lovely, fashionably dressed ladies chatting gaily among themselves."
Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound of two common words nose + gay. Nosegays were originally things intended to make the nose gay, that is to say, for their fragrance. Nose comes down from PIE nas- "nose", which emerged in German as Nase, French as nez, Russian and most Slavic languages as nos. It turned up in Sanskrit as nasa and in Latin as nasus, which underlies the English borrowing nasal. Nostril goes back to Old English nos + thryl "hole". Gay was borrowed from Old French gai "happy; colorful", a word probably borrowed from Old High German gahi "rash, hasty". How this word came to be in German is unknown. (We owe our gratitude today to Debbie Moggio, who actually suggested tussie-mussie, an archaic synonym of today's Good Word.)
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