sconce

Does this word conceal, inset, or fortify? To hear it is to hear a hiss of hush (or of magician’s steam), in the middle of which – a con? ‘S gone! Sss! But you can only see once. And yet, as secretive, dim or elegant as this word’s reference may be, it carries with it a bread-and-butter overtone. (But butter your scones improperly at Oxford and you may be sconced – oxonian argot for fined an ale). Interestingly, we get this word from more than one source. Best known is the one from Latin absconsus, “hidden,” referring to the shield for a light (and the ab us? absconded with, evidently). But there is also the fortifying earthwork, from Dutch schans, which over time came to refer to protective shields and other things more resembling the sense of the word whose form this one had taken. This word dances most often with wall, but it is much more often seen ensconced (comfortably, safely, firmly, happily) in (always in) ensconced, sitting like the flickering light behind the en and attached to the d.

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