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sprezzatura

Printable Version
Pronunciation: spret-sê-tur-rê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Making something difficult seem easy, studied nonchalance.

Notes: The first appearance of this word in English print occurred in 1957. It tends to be used in writing and speaking about the arts: dance and literary criticism in particular. I don't know and couldn't find a more 'English' word for this sentiment in dictionaries, so I guess we will have to make do with this Italian expression.

In Play: Today's Good Word seems to fit the performing arts: "Meryl Streep plays wide variety of roles with an amazing sprezzatura." The performing arts also present artists performing feats of physical difficulty: "Baryshnikov could fly through the air with the greatest sprezzatura, as though he were leaping with the least effort."

Word History: Today's Good Word started out as Old German spratzen, Modern German spritzen "shower, spray", which Italian borrowed as sprazzare "spray, sketch". Today Modern Italian sprezzare means "despise, scorn", the same as disprezzare and contrary to apprezzare "appreciate". However, back in the days it meant the same as spritzen means today. It was not, as one etymologist claims, drawn from Latin spretus, past participle of spernere "hold in contempt". The semantic trail is the reverse of this: from "spray" to "hold in contempt", probably from the spray of spitting at someone we hold in contempt. (Now let's thank George Kovac, who shows sprezzatura in picking out sparkling Good Words like today's with ease.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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