Printable Version
Pronunciation: vi-lê-nel Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: No, it isn't female villain, though it shares its origin with villain (see Word History). A villanelle is a 19-line poem consisting of five tercets and a final quatrain, the whole poem containing only two rhymes.

Notes: Perhaps the most famous villanelle of all is Dylan Thomas's villanelle to his father, " Do not go gentle into that good night". When I first encountered this poem, I thought the form and cadence odd and wondered why Thomas had written it so. Now we all know.

In Play: Silvia Plath's "Mad Girl's Love Song" and W. H. Auden's "If I Could Tell You" are further examples of this poetic genre.

Word History: Today's Good Word is French villanelle, itself borrowed from Italian villanella "rustic song or dance", the feminine of the adjective villanello "rustic, rural" used as a noun. Villanello was inherited from Medieval Latin villanus "villager, farmhand". Villanus was based on Latin villa "country house, farm", a word that goes back to PIE root weik-sla- "village" based on weik-/woik- "clan". The root weik/woik- alone went into the making of Latin vicus "village", underlying vicar. In Greek this PIE word came up as oikos "house" which, when combined with the stem of nem-/nom- "allot, take", made oikonomia "household management", a word which was borrowed from the Latin copy, oeconomia, as economy. (Thank you, Deborah Moggio, for yet another surprisingly Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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