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Deshabille

 (Spelling variation: dishabille)

Definition: Poorly or partially dressed.

Pronunciation: Des-hab-eel

Origin: Entered the English language in the early 19th century. From French déshabillé, meaning ‘undressed’.

Why This Word?

This word entered the English language around the time that the English decided to become a race of super-conservative prudes (i.e., late Georgian to Victorian era). I have not yet come across another word that better illustrates the cultural void between France and England at that time than this word. The French déshabillé simply referred to someone that was without clothing. Nothing more. It had no other connotation. Yet when the English incorporated it, the word immediately gained a negative connotation – as in ‘poorly dressed’ or ‘scandalously dressed’. There were other words available to the English at the time – the word ‘naked’ or, simply, ‘undressed’ for example. However, the fact that they chose to import a word perhaps points to the idea that the English language was so pure and proper that it could itself never give birth to a word that could aptly describe both nakedness/scandalously clothed and impart a ‘proper’ sense of indignity at the thought. Better off just borrowing the normal word for such things from those scandalous French …

How to use deshabille in a sentence?

Example: “When I was in Scotland, I noted that the locals wore no underwear beneath their kilts. I decided to wear ankle-length long-johns rather than copy their deshabille.”

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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!

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