A demure demoiselle might demur, but with a little bit of the kitten at heart: mu, making its moue with “mew.” This French-born word’s mode is modesty, but it could be a decoy by the coy: it may seem like a wall (mur), but it meets your lips with the murmur of a ripe blackberry (mûre mûre). It is indeed “ripe” that it comes from – meaning “mature” and thus “mellow, staid.” So first it meant calm, and then it meant sober and staid, but once the medieval era gave way to the Renaissance, the reticence was made a veil and this word began to wink: the gravity was guised levity, or at the very least a restraint not quite natural. At first the term was used as readily for men as for women, but now it has become an attribute of the blushing sex: the words most likely to be near it are woman, little, her, very, and she. Feminine modesty may no longer be the cultural norm, but modest misses still have their fans – the ones held in front of their faces, beyond which you may see the lashes that await you.
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