What will please me more than gazing? Gazing at a lovely view, gazing at a lovely open structure with a lovely view, gazing at a lovely word for the lovely structure, gazing at a lovely etymology of the lovely word?

So I will gaze. And I will be pleased, and sometimes distracted.

A thing that will please to distraction is called an ‘I will please’ in Latin: placebo. Sugar pills, questionable complementary therapies, anything that makes you happy for a time just because you want it to rather than through any intrinsic validity: a placebo. It previously named a flattering sycophantic person, and before that it was a name for the vespers in the chanted Latin Office for the Dead, from the first line: Placebo Domino in regione vivorum, ‘I will please the Lord in the land of the living’.

It’s sort of like how a lavabo is a little washbasin, from Latin lavabo “I will wash’, originally from the opening lines of the prayer recited by the priest as he washed his hands, Lavabo inter innocentes manus meas, ‘I shall wash my hands among the innocent’ (more recently replaced with Lava me, Domine, ab iniquitate mea, et a peccato meo munda me – ‘Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin’ – though I don’t think the priest is required to use Lava soap). But, yes, a lavabo will wash, just as a placebo will please.

And so I was gazing at a gazebo the other day and though, “Ha, gazebo looks like it could be Latin for ‘I will gaze’.” A silly passing thought – gaze is not and could not be a Latin word (Latin doesn’t use z). In fact, the origin of gaze is uncertain. But I just had to look up the origin of gazebo and, since I was travelling, I was on my phone without my logins, so I looked at Wiktionary. Here it what it told me:

Possibly from gaze+ Latin conjugation ending -ebo (as in videbo); or possibly from Arabic قَصَبَة‎ (qaṣaba) (whence also casbah), refashioned after gaze.


Turns out a gazebo was first a turret or lookout on a building, and subsequently came to name a separate structure; the original idea was that it would have a commanding view, though many of them now are in gardens and such surrounds with no view to speak of. It’s still a beau place, but perhaps sometimes just pleasing to distraction.

Now, as the second half of the etymological note says, the ‘I will gaze’ etymology may be a bit dodgy, a bit of a retrofit, but it is the most popular one. In which case it, too, like folk etymologies generally, would be a simple thing that keeps one happy without any real validity. Not just a placeholder but a placebo.

Well, and what if it is? I wash my hands of the matter.

4 responses to “gazebo

  1. Well done, nicely tied together. I suppose the little screened log hut I built beside a lake could be called a gazebo.

  2. Again well done.. I had no idea of the original meanings in Latin. Very interesting thank you

  3. Pingback: icicle | Sesquiotica

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