gorgeous

By George! This could be a word for a beautiful canyon or similar scenery (denizens of Ithaca sometimes say “Cornell is gorges”). But more often it’s used for someone of resplendent, immoderate beauty – full lashes, lush lips, bounteous hair, unstinting physiognomy. A diadem in the clavicle of a soirée. Beauty you could eat – and gorge yourself on. The stressed syllable of this word puts the mouth into an attitude of astonishment: not only are the lips rounded, the tongue is pulled back and down. So the vowel can be held long and it’s like saying oooooooohhh! And then you follow with the underlining echo of just – not just as in It’s just me but rather as in That’s just incredible! Say it: just gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous… Not that just shows up next to gorgeous that often (it doesn’t need to, really); absolutely is more likely. But the more classic lead-in is drop-dead (and if you see drop-dead it’s very likely to be followed by gorgeous). And what sort of thing does gorgeous describe? Such things as scenery, girl, woman, and – don’t pretend to be surprised – blonde. Now, where does this word come from? It looks like gorge, which is also the French word for “throat” (coming from Latin); are they related? Some sources say “yes” and some say “we don’t know because we don’t have data.” It is known that it comes from Old French gorgias, “elegantly or finely dressed”; this seems to connect to jewelry or kerchiefs, adornments of the throat, but the details are not entirely agreed on. Now, of course, the sense has shifted, and the clothing can be incidental; I defy anyone to say a person needs jewelry, a scarf, or even clothing at all to be gorgeous. Appropriate, yes; but gorgeous is a law unto itself.

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