Sally M (sallymn) wrote in 1word1day,
Sally M

Sunday Word: Debonair

debonair [deb-uh-nair]
1 courteous, gracious, and having a sophisticated charm:
2 jaunty; carefree; sprightly.


Neal is the charming and debonair criminal I created for the show, played brilliantly by Matt Bomer. (Jeff Eastin, 'White Collar' Creator Jeff Eastin: My Biggest Con, 2017)

The smiling, confident, debonair officer was changed into a stricken, mournful man. (Louis Tracy, The Wings of the Morning)

Bow ties always look debonair á la James Bond, but Southern men can wear them in every color and pattern under the sun for a little extra flair (Kaitlyn Yarborough, What Does It Really Mean To Have Southern Taste?, Sothern Living, 2018)


c. 1200, 'mild, gentle, kind courteous,' from Old French debonaire, from de bon' aire 'of good race,' originally used of hawks, hence, 'thoroughbred' (opposite of French demalaire); aire here is perhaps from Latin ager 'place, field' (from PIE root agro- 'field') on notion of 'place of origin.' Used in Middle English to mean 'docile, courteous,' it became obsolete and was revived with an altered sense of 'pleasantly light-hearted and affable' (1680s). OED says it is 'now a literary archaism, often assimilated in spelling to modern French débonnaire. (Online Etymological Dictionary)

In Anglo-French, someone who was genteel and well-brought-up was described as 'deboneire' - literally 'of good family or nature' (from three words: 'de bon aire'). When the word was borrowed into English in the 13th century, it basically meant 'courteous,' a narrow sense now pretty much obsolete. Today's 'debonair' incorporates charm, polish, and worldliness, often combined with a carefree attitude (think James Bond). And yes, we tend to use this sense mostly, though not exclusively, of men. In the 19th century, we took the 'carefree' part and made it a sense all its own. 'The crowd that throngs the wharf as the steamer draws alongside is gay and debonair; it is a noisy, cheerful, gesticulating crowd,' wrote Somerset Maugham in 1919 in his novel The Moon and Sixpence. (Merriam-Webster)

Tags: adjective, archaic, d, french, old french, wordsmith: sallymn

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