Odd Words: Barcarole

Barcarole - Venetian Boat SongThere were really only two things on page 22 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition: barbiturate and barometer. Really: it was amazing. I understand barometer. It was all pressure related words. But it was remarkable how many words had to do with barbiturates. Just the same, that was a time when there was still memory of people dying a lot for them. Hail the benzodiazepines! But there were other words, so today’s is barcarole.

Barcarole and Beyond

There were some other interesting words beside barcarole, of course. For example: barghest. This is some kind of ghostly apparition that is supposed to be an omen of death. I have a curious relationship with death. I really don’t fear it. At the same time, I wonder how I would feel if I were staring it right in the face. I know that any freak-out that I experienced would just be genetic encoding. But it wouldn’t make it any less unpleasant. The point is that I wonder how I would react if a barghest appeared to me tonight. Probably okay. I’m most okay with death when I’m half asleep.

Anyway, enough of that. On to “barcarole.”

Bar·ca·role  noun  \bär’-kə-rōl\

1. a Venetian boat song or a piece of music in imitation of this.

Date: late 18th century.

Origin: from the French word barcarolle, which means exactly what barcarole means. In fact, the word is often spelled the same way in English. Where the French got the word, I don’t kow.

Example: But whether I am faking on a player piano, or striking the chords with my own mind and hands, the song of my life is equally suspenseful and full of surprises as it rolls off the pulsating sounding board of destiny — a barcarole that either way will leave.Bulletin of the New York Public Library

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Odd Words: Barcarole

  1. The OED says it first meant the boatman who sang it, and that came from the Italian ‘barca’ meaning boat, skiff or barge – from which we get the word ‘bark’ or ‘barque’. And that ‘barge’ and ‘barca’ may have a common origin in the Celtic languages.

    • Oh, that’s great! I love this kind of stuff. As you might be able to tell, by the time I get to the definition itself, I’m kind of bored. Plus, I try to stay as true as possible to the original (not so good) source book.

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