May 14, 2014

Case File #014.05.14: FALSETTO

If you're like me and you grew up groovin' to the vocal intonations of Smokey Robinson, Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations, and Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons, you're probably already familiar with the noun falsetto. Still, you probably don't know much about the word's background, so listen up. Borrowed directly from Italian circa 1774, falsetto is the diminutive form of the Italian adjective falso, which itself is a direct descendant of the Latin falsus, meaning “false” or “feigned.” Thus, the literal translation of falsetto is “artificially small.” But when eighteenth-century English speakers got hold of the word, they chose to use it as a noun and to apply it to something that is conspicuously fake in its smallness: a voice (especially one used by an adult male singer) that is affectedly high in pitch, or a singer who uses such a voice.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

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