Printable Version
Pronunciation: bril-yên-teen Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (No plural)

Meaning: 1. A glossy fabric made of worsted cotton or cotton and mohair. 2. A scented oil used to make men's hair glossy.

Notes: The most popular brilliantine hair oil in the US was called Brylcreme. President Ronald Reagan used it regularly. The adjective brilliantined means "slathered with brilliantine". That is the only lexical relative currently in use.

In Play: Here is how we use today's Good Word in the first sense above: "Maude Lynn Dresser came to the party in a gaudy brilliantine dress glowing all the more from a host of glittery multicolored sequins." Brilliantine is far more often used in reference to men's hair dressing: "Maude was accompanied by Phil Anders, his hair slicked back under a thick sweet-smelling coat of brilliantine."

Word History: This Good Word comes to us from French brillantine (without the middle I) based on brillant "shining, shiny", the present participle of briller "to shine". French borrowed its verb from Italian brillare "to shine", derived from brillo "shininess". Brillo seems related to Latin beryllus "beryl", borrowed from Greek berullos "beryl". The Latin word may have come to refer to any translucent stone or glass of pale green color in the Middle Ages. The first spectacle lenses may have been made of a such a glass, which would explain German Brille "spectacles". We also find Prakrit veruliya from Sanskrit vaidurya-, perhaps borrowed from non-Indo-European Tamil veliru or vilar "to whiten, become pale" or from the city of Vilur in Southern India. Who knows?

Dr. Goodword,

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