February 12, 2014

Case File #014.02.12: PERSIFLAGE

Lord Chesterfield introduced English speakers to the noun persiflage, which means “light but slightly contemptuous mockery or banter,” in his Letters to His Son, a collection of missives from Chesterfield to his illegitimate son, Philip, that were written in the early eighteenth century but not compiled and published until circa 1774. Chesterfield borrowed the term directly from French, and the French noun was derived from the French verb persifler, meaning “to banter.” That verb, however, was itself derived from the French verb siffler, which means “to whistle or hiss” and is a descendant of the Latin sibilare, meaning “to hiss.” Thus, one could cogently argue that persiflage is simply a friendlier and more articulate form of the mocking hiss or the deriding boo.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

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