Etymology: Louche & Orrery
Time to look at the new words I’ve come across recently.
I read a book that described a man as being “louche”. The Google dictionary defines this to mean “disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way”.
Louche was derived from Old French and Latin words referring to eyes, with meanings such as “squinting, one-eyed, or cross-eyed”.
I can see there is a link between someone squinting and thinking that person is shifty or dodgy-looking, although it’s perhaps rather stereotypical.
If louche refers to a man, it seems to have an air of being appealing despite appearances. The typical bad boy, perhaps. Whereas applied to a place, such as a neighbourhood or an area, it appears to mean indecent or disreputable, or of questionable taste, without the attractive edge.
Louche is also a verb, meaning “to become cloudy when mixed with water”. This happens when you add water to anise-flavoured spirits like ouzo or sambuca.
I learnt this word in a steampunk book I read recently. It means a clockwork model of the solar system, or of just the sun, earth, and moon. The planets can be moved at their correct relative velocities around the sun.
It was named in the early 18th Century after the Earl of Orrery, for whom one was made. Since 1800 the usage of the word has vastly diminished, so it’s no wonder I hadn’t heard it before.
Another interesting point: if you want to know more about a word, just type “your word: definition” into Google. You get an immediate meaning, and all sorts of details on etymology and word usage, including a graph of the word’s usage over time.
I also like reading on my Kindle because if you don’t know a word, you can highlight it and the dictionary pops up. Although you can tell when you’ve overdone it, if you pick a paperback and find yourself pressing your finger to words on the page and wondering why nothing happens…