pah-lê-tes • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: The most elegant of manners, extreme or perfect politeness; politeness with finesse.
Notes: Politesse generally indicates an extreme form of politeness, which invites the word to be used deprecatingly, implying an exaggerated, sometimes superficial politeness. The end of this word is a French feminine suffix, -esse, so be sure to remember that it is spelled in the French fashion with a silent E on the end, and NOT like the English version of the same suffix seen in lioness, waitress, and the like. Take note that the accent falls on the final syllable of this word.
In Play: Today's Good Word refers to politeness carried to extremes: "The level of politesse at the dinner that evening left Fuller with the sense that he was in a foreign culture." The word does not always carry a pejorative connotation, though: "Morgan, when you meet with the Grand Duke, remember that he must be treated not only with decorum but with perfect politesse."
Word History: Old French politesse meant "cleanliness", but in Modern French it means "politeness, courtesy". English copied the word into its vocabulary somewhere in between. The French borrowed the word from Italian pulitezza, the noun from pulire "to polish, clean up", a verb that came from Latin polire "to polish". English polite "polished in manners" comes from politus, the past participle of polire. The verb polish [pah-lish] is the result of an alternate root of French polir "polish", poliss-, seen in polissage "polishing". It is unrelated to the adjective Polish [po-lish], referring to the Slavic nation of Central Europe. That word ultimately goes back to the Slavic word polye "field". (Today we thank the very polished vocabulary of Mr. G. N. Bludworth from which the suggestion for today's word came.)
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