Jess held up a brooch encrusted with stones of indeterminate preciousness.

I looked at it. “Did you stab yourself?”

“No,” she said, “I just wanted to broach the subject. Do you like my ouche?”

“May I touch it?” I replied.

“That sounds louche,” she observed.


She handed me the ouche. Yes, ouche, also spelled ouch, is a term – used now mostly poetically and as a deliberate archaism, but found in such luminous sources as Shakespeare, Kipling, Bulwer-Lytton, and the King James Bible – for a clasp, brooch, or buckle set with precious stones. (Brooch, for its part, is in origin the same word as broach; two divergent senses – the piercing and the ornamented piercer – took on divergent spellings.)

“It’s shaped like an O, you see?”

“Like an O-you-see-H?” I volleyed back.

“Do you want a jewel?” she said. Or maybe it was “Do you want to duel?” They sound so similar, especially if the person has any British tinges in their pronunciation.

Either way, the best I could give back was “I think you’d have me pinned.” I looked at it. “Will you wear it on an apron?”

She smiled. “An orange one.” She, of course, knew that an ouche, an apron, and an orange came originally from a nouche, a napron, and a norange. It’s just another way our language has of making n‘s meet, eh? She added, “But I might wear it out. Sh!” She raised a finger to her lips.

“Where did you get it?” I asked. “It looks like a bit of an ‘ouch’ in the wallet.”

“Oh,” she said, waving it away with a flip of her hand, “I had a voucher.”

“Well,” I said, handing it back, “don’t lose it in the couch.”

“Sofa, so good,” she said, pinning it on. Then “Ow! Affricate.”

“Yes,” I said, “it’s ‘ow’ followed by a voiceless affricate. Makes a bit of a moue.”

Her mouth was indeed in a moue – sucking her fingertip. “No,” she replied, “I said, ‘Ah, frick it.’ I poked myself.”

“Ouch,” I said in sympathy. Or perhaps just to needle her.

Thanks to Amy Toffelmire for suggesting today’s word.

2 responses to “ouche

  1. A Missive on Missile
    Could you please do a word-tasting piece on the US/non-US pronunciation of ‘missile’? At first glance, you think the Americans are beating ploughshares into prayer books: when you listen carefully, however, you realize that they want to send Mobil ballistic weapons into hostel territory. Would it be to Juvenal to suggest that the rigid upward-thrusting machines have a penal quality?

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