• piquant •
pi-kahnt, pee-kênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Spicily flavorful, tangy, sharp but appetizing. 2. Witty, charmingly sharp, awakening the senses.
Notes: I love words that leave home to go out on their own and today's did just that. It is the adjective of pique "irritation, resentment", but it parted company with the pejorative noun in order to keep its positive meaning. An adverb, piquantly, is possible, and the noun accompanying this adjective is the ever lovely piquancy. Notice that the QU in all these words is pronounced as in French: [k].
In Play: Today's word originally applied to food but is used more often today metaphorically in referring to commentary: "The beef tenderloin was in a sauce that was as piquant as the dinner conversation sailing over it." A piquant conversation may also imply sharp words that make us uncomfortable: "The response to the question of why the senator was seen coming from a motel with his secretary was spiced with such piquant words that the reporter blushed."
Word History: As mentioned above, piquant set out as the adjective of pique, a sense of irritation or slight anger. It was originally a French word that had been borrowed earlier by English, ultimately becoming pike in the sense of a spear, and pickax. The disparity in meanings is explained by the fact that pique originally meant "a spear" and came from the verb piquer "to stick, stab", implying a sharp, pointed object. The definition of pique has become much milder over the centuries and, after it, piquant has become even milder. French inherited its verb from the Vulgar (street) Latin word piccare "to stick, prick", which seems to have appeared on Roman streets out of nowhere. However, it became a popular word to borrow and ended up in English not only as pike and pique, but also as peak, pinch and picayune. (Today we owe our gratitude to the pleasantly piquant mind of Katy Brezger, who suggested this very Good Word.)