• chanteuse •
shahn-tuz • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A female nightclub singer.
Notes: Although English has borrowed several words about singing from French, few are taken seriously. We also borrowed chansonnier, from chanson "song", a singer of satirical cabaret songs. The plural of chanteuse, chanteuses, with its mixture of French and ordinary English pronunciations, comes off as a bit silly, which doesn't help the word's reputation.
In Play: The problem with today's Good Word is that it is out of place in the US; when used to refer to French songstresses or singers from other European nations, it raises no eyebrows: "Edith Piaf was the most popular chanteuse in France in the 40s and 50s." However, we should be careful how we use it in the US: "Bertha D. Blues was a legendary chanteuse, famous for her appearances in the Elbow Room uptown."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the feminine correlate to French chanteur "singer", derived from chanter "to sing". The French verb came from Latin cantare "to sing often", a word that goes back to Proto-Indo-European kan- "to sing". This stem also devolved through the Germanic languages, coming to Old English as hana "rooster", today's word hen. Roosters were often perceived as singers in the Indo-European world. In the medieval stories of Reynard the Fox, the name of the rooster is Chanticleer, from Old French chante cler "sing clearly". In English romantic literature this word is often used just in the sense of "rooster". Finally, the Greek word for rooster was eikanos, containing the same melodious root, kan-. (Today we owe our gratitude to that wonderful chanteuse of downtown Kennedy, Minnesota, alphaDictionary's own Dawn Shawley's Aunt Judy Dziengel.)
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