trilby

A word that may seem old hat but perhaps also counfounds the hearer. Those who don’t know what a trilby is may think it a trifling, silly, or flimsy frill, or perhaps a flower – or a furry little purring space rabbit. Those who know it is a hat may be misled by the tri to think it a three-cornered one. In truth, the hat could have been called a Du Maurier hat (for the man who wrote the novel Trilby and did the illustrations, including ones of a character wearing a floppy Homburg-type hat with a pinched front, which was subsequently worn in the hit play as well), or a Billee hat (for the character who wore the hat)… or perhaps even a Svengali hat (for the most famous character of the novel, who, however, would more likely have lent his name to an axe-like beard had his appearance been more remarked than his character). But this is a word tasting note, not a hat tasting note. And, in truth, the word could have more readily been given to the feet, as the heroine Trilby had beautiful ones – and in fact it for a time was a cute word for a foot – or to a style of shoes – which it also was for a time. It never referred to a singing voice, oddly, in spite of its thrilling treble trill. The word on the page is mostly ascenders, going up like the heroine’s voice or the hairs on the back of your neck on hearing it (or on thinking of Svengali’s Mesmeric control), or pointing to the hat, but with a little y setting down a dainty foot at the end – or curving and pointing down like Svengali’s beard, depending on how you see it.

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