• jazz •
jæz • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A genre of popular music characterized by syncopation, improvisation, and a forceful rhythm. It emerged in the early 20th century in New Orleans from ragtime, developing into several styles: the blues, Dixieland, swing, smooth jazz, fusion, etc. 2. Energy, animation, excitement, fire. 3. Crap, nonsense, malarkey as in 'all that jazz'.
Notes: This word comes with an adjective, jazzy "colorful, exciting", which provides its own noun, jazziness. You can jazz something up by making it more colorful or exciting.
In Play: Jazz is still very much alive, though not as universally popular in the US as it once was: "The jazz trumpet, saxophone, and trombone were replaced by the guitar and bass in the 60s." The figurative sense of the noun is reflected in the verb: "Hans Orf jazzed up his room with phosphorescent posters of poltergeists illuminated by black light."
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken letter-for-letter from French where it meant "pricking" or "prickly", from piquer "to jap, prick, irritate". We assume it came from some Vulgar Latin word, piccare "to prick, pierce", but we have no written proof of the existence of such a word. This word is possible since it might have been derived from picus "woodpecker" or some predecessor of picus. Pique, pike and pick in the sense of "pickax" come from the same French source. All Romance languages have a derivation of this mysterious Latin word: French pique, Italian picca, Portuguese pique, Spanish pica. Latin must have contained a word other than picus based on pic- meaning "spear, pike" or otherwise referring to something with a point. (We always appreciate the piquant words recommended by Mark Bailey such as today's Good Word.)
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