December 30, 2013

Case File #013.12.30: FACADE

The principal meaning of facade is “the front or face of a building,” and it's therefore no surprise that the word is a descendant of the Latin noun facies, which meant “face” or “appearance.” But English wasn't the Latin's immediate heir. Italian was actually the first in line, using the Latin as the basis for the word faccia, meaning “face,” and in turn using that as the basis for the noun facciata, meaning “the face of a building.” The next beneficiary was French, which took the Italian facciata and kept its meaning but changed its form to façade. Finally, English became a heritor when it acquired the French word in the mid-seventeenth century, and while this was pretty much a direct transfer, most English speakers today slightly Anglicize the word's form by replacing the ç with a c. By the way, the figurative use of facade in which it means “an often deceptive outward appearance” is relatively new to the English language, having first appeared around the close of the nineteenth century.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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