Word Geek Column, July 5, 2011

WORD GEEK word of the week: insouciant

in sou ciant

Spell to Write and Read markings: in sou ciant*

* for those marking this word, a “3” goes above the phonogram ou, for third sound.

adjective – exhibiting an attitude of freedom from concern or care, an absence of studied attention or indifference.  Displaying unconcern, especially for impressions on others of one’s work, conduct, or behavior. 

Synonyms: careless, indifferent

Muriel flounced into the meeting late, uncaring, her typically insouciant manner evident to everyone.

“Insouciant” is of French origin and came into English in 1829.  It is a derivative of “insouciance”, meaning carelessness, thoughtlessness, or heedlessness, which appeared in English writings in 1799.  The root of both words, “insouciant” and “insouciance”, comes from the Latin word sollicitare, meaning ‘agitated’.  Its present form is constructed of the prefix in- (not) + the French souciant (caring), derived from the verb soucier (to care).

“Insouciant” is one of an enormous number (perhaps as many as 40%) of English words which come from French.  People often wonder why this phenomenon occured.  Many of these words are of Latin derivation and also claim Latin roots.

When the Normans (French) invaded the Anglo-Saxon territories now known as the British Isles, they insisted that only French be spoken in public and at court.  Over a period of 200-300 years following the invasion, many French words either altered Old English words or replaced them.  In a number of cases, once Modern English became settled and the French went home to the Continent, many French spellings remained but the English pronunciations remained.

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