This week’s word is nonchalance, which turned up on a list of “favourite words” on the internet recently and reminded me that I rather like the concept of a nonchalant saunter.
First up, what does nonchalance mean? It’s a state of casualness or cool indifference. If you’re strolling along without a care in the world, you’re being nonchalant.
Nonchalant is a gift to English from the French, but first we have to go back a bit further. The Latin verb calere means “to be hot”. The medieval French took that idea of heat into their language as chaloir (and present participle chalant) but twisted the meaning to be less about heat and more about being concerned. Both those uses in French have effectively died out now, so don’t trot them out on your holidays.
Allegedly chaland in French has the same root and means “customer or client” but Google Translate has that as meaning barge and my old French-English dictionary agrees, so perhaps the customer meaning is an old one. Hard to see how barges relate to heat or concern.
Anyhow, the version of calere which persisted in French was nonchaloir which meant “being indifferent to or having no concern for”. That gave them nonchalant and nonchalant transferred, with the same meaning, to English in 1734 and hasn’t left since.
Anybody who has visited France will know that they do a rather good line in the old nonchalant gallic shrug, so we shouldn’t be surprised at the word’s root.
Until next time happy reading, writing, and nonchalant shrugging,