Monday, December 5, 2011

What's In a Name? Étienne de Silhouette

There's evidence dating back to the first century in Greece of back-lit portraits - what we refer to today as "silhouettes." I have no idea what this art form was named before Étienne de Silhouette. (1709-1767) It is interesting to discover how this art form took his name. After all, there's no historical evidence of his having a talent for such art.

As it happens,he was the Minister of Finance in 1759 in the court of Louis XV. Just like today, he had the ungrateful task of controlling the deficit and raising enough money to finance the Seven Years' War against Britain.

M. Silhouette's austerity moves made him unpopular and gained him a reputation of being a penny-pincher. The phrase, a la Silhouette became a common phrase for anything done on the cheap. In the same period, shadow cutouts were very popular and inexpensive. And that, dear reader, is how these forms of portraits became known as "silhouettes."

Isn't it fun to know the history of words? Do you have a favorite word with a history you know?


  1. Very interesting. One of my favorite words is Spanish - ojala. I like it because I know the history which is Arabic for "with the help of God." It's used a lot in Spanish speech. Anita Z.

  2. snafu comes quickly to mind

  3. I don't know where you get these pieces but some of them, such as this one, are fascinating!Mary S.

  4. Love snafu! Very good!

    @Mary: I get my ideas for the blog from all manner of sources. Then I do a lot of research and if it seems like something that might be of interest to readers, it lands on the blog. R.

  5. Very interesting...............thanks R