Odd Words: Cheval Glass

Cheval GlassToday we do page 50 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! As I went through the page, I was struck by how many words seemed pretty useless. But I decided to feature a word that I’m shocked I didn’t know: “cheval glass.”

Some Words I Knew

Page 50 had more interesting words that I knew than ones I didn’t. For example, there is the word “chez” as in “at or to the home of.” There was a certain period of my life when I hung out with a lot of, well, my mother would call them “artsy-fartsy” types. And they loved using this word. Or anything French, to be honest.

Of more interest is “chicanery.” It is “trickery by the use of subterfuge or sophistry.” It’s a word that I associate with magic. Indeed, I’m sure that’s how it first entered my vocabulary. Of course, now I associate it with the current administration. But the truth is that there isn’t much trickery. A small-time con man would never make any money if they were as bad as Trump and company.

A word I don’t think I’ve heard since childhood is “chinchy.” It means “miserly, stingy, or cheap.” But when I was young, I used the word a lot. Or I heard it a lot. Or both. It does seem like a child’s word. When you are an adult, you are too busy trying to survive to talk about other’s cheapness.

A related word is “chintzy.” It means “tawdry; cheap; gaudy.” The two words sound very similar. I should start using it. It too reminds me of Trump.

A Thousand…

There were two words that come to us via the Greek word khiliastēs, which means “a thousand years.” First is “chiliarch,” which is “(in ancient Greece and Rome) an officer in charge of a thousand men.” The second is “chiliasm,” which is “the doctrine that Christ will return to reign on Earth for a thousand years.”

This last word is interesting because it shows how limited the time scales were for people in the past. It has only been the last couple hundred years that we’ve known just how old the Earth, solar system, and universe are. The idea that Christ will reign for just a thousand years is pathetic. Of course, it isn’t if you believe the universe is only 6,000 years old.

Cheval Glass

There were other words, of course. But none were that interesting. I was interested to see that “chirography” is “handwriting or penmanship.” But otherwise… So that brings us to the word (or phrase) of the day: “cheval glass.”

Chev·val glass  noun  \chəval’\

1. a full-length mirror suspended on a frame so that it can be tilted.

Date: mid 19th century.

Origin: from French cheval as in “frame.”

Example: I would not say no to a cheval glass in the living room instead of a coffee table. –Jessica Grant, Come, Thou Tortoise.

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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.

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