• ingenue •
ahN-zhe-nu • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A naïve, innocent, artless young woman or the role of such in a dramatic production.
Notes: This word was so recently (1848) stolen from French that it hasn't even lost the French pronunciation. Even the French spelling, ingénue, is still clinging on, especially in British English. The Latin adjective ingenuus "open, candid", the ancestor of today's Good Word, was also borrowed directly from Latin as ingenuous without the soothing smoothing effects of French.
In Play: Naiveté is a core characteristic of ingenues: "Phil Anders plies his trade much better with ingenues than with older, more experienced women." This term arose in the theater referring to roles and the actors who played them: "Angelina Jolie, even in her younger days, would have been a poor choice to play an ingenue."
Word History: English obviously borrowed this word from French ingénue "naïve, artless girl". It was the noun use of feminine of ingénu "ingenuous, artless, simple", inherited from Latin ingenuus, mentioned above. This word's original meaning was apparently "freeborn, noble", for it combines in "in" + gen- "give birth to". The prefix-preposition in comes from the same PIE root en "in" that came to be English in and Greek en. The root gen- came from PIE genê- "give birth to" that also produced Latin genus "race, family, descent", generare "to beget, create" (from which we borrowed generate) and genesis "birth, creation". The semantic shift from "noble" to "naive" occurred because the nobility was assumed to be frank and open. People who believed that were, indeed, naive. (Today's Good Word comes to you upon the recommendation of our good friend William Tupy, a long-time contributor in the Agora.)
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