Printable Version
Pronunciation: fig-leef Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Leaf from a fig plant. 2. Anything that inadequately conceals something embarrassing.

Notes: Arent you ashamed? We seem to have three ways today's word may be spelled: fig leaf, fig-leaf, and figleaf. The first spelling suggests a syntactic phrase; the latter two are the spellings of most lexical compound nouns. English spelling of compounds is all over the place, so even the first spelling is acceptable.

In Play: The original figurative use of this word referred only to the figleaves added to human statuary in Victorian times to cover genitalia: "The statue of Achilles in Hyde Park Corner has an incongruous figleaf permanently attached." Because of that use, its expansion usually implies something shameful: "Reggie quit his job because, as the only African American there, he felt himself to be a figleaf over the rampant racism throughout the firm."

Word History: Today's Word is obviously a compound noun comprising fig + leaf. English simply knocked the ending off Old French figue to come up with fig. French inherited its word from Latin ficus "fig (tree)". How ficus came to be in Latin is a matter of controversy. The best guess is that it was borrowed from some Semitic language, such as Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic paggâ "(fallen) fig" or dialectal Arabic fijj "fig".

Leaf has cousins in most Germanic languages: Dutch loof, German Laub, Danish løv, all meaning "foliage". Apparently, all are from PIE leubh-/loubh- "to peel, cut off", the results of which we see in Irish luibh "herb", Albanian lëvore "bark", Russian lub "bast (linden bark)", Lithuanian lapai "leaf", and Latvian lapa "leaf".

Dr. Goodword,

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