glitz

You know glitz, of course, of glitz and glamour (or, sometimes, glam and glitz), offspring of glitzy (no, not the other way around). Glitz made its arrival in English in the 1970s (yes, really), and the first quote the Oxford English Dictionary has for glitzy is from The New York Times in 1966: “Advertising will stress that Devil Shake is ‘glitzy’. This claim will be hard to deny, at least until someone defines the word.” 

I’m sure you could define glitz or glitzy if you had to… right? But you won’t need to, because it sounds and looks exactly like it should to mean what it means. It has the gl- that so often shows up on words to do with light or shininess, and in particular it has the gli- of glimmer, glint, glisten, glister, and glitter. Along with that, it has the -itz of blitz, fritz, Ritz, and spritz – which sounds exactly like the -its of so many words (splits, hits, bits), but we know that that z is there, with its lightning look and its relative rarity. Between the gli- and the -itz, its meaning shines out, sparkles, flashes… perhaps even a bit too much.

Some people might guess that glitzy was formed from, say, glitter and Ritzy. It wasn’t, but it’s not surprising they would think so. Other people, looking at form, tone, and context, would guess we got it from Yiddish, and they’re probably right. And Yiddish in its turn got it from German (the other possible language English got it from): in German, glitzern means ‘glitter’ (and is related to some of those other gli- words).

But tell me, now, is glitz good? Is it great to be glitzy, or is it somehow tawdry, meretricious, trite, excessive, gaudy, garish?

Or is it both: overdone and wonderful? Or does it depend on what you like?

Glitz can refer to the sights of a fairground midway at night, sure, and similar sparkly things. But if you look at songs that use glitz – and there are quite a lot of them – or most other contexts of us, it’s almost always associated with show business, the bright lights of Broadway and Hollywood, the hyperreality of the world of stage and screen, even in more figurative senses: shiny glamorous people. And the implication is always that it’s not real at the core: it’s all a Fabergé eggshell, a gilded cage with Swarovski crystals on the bars. A wild ride, flashy and trashy, at the heart of it signifying nothing.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s why you go see these things – and for some of us, it’s why we go perform in them: to create and experience something special and exciting and far flashier than the ordinary. The mistake is just thinking that it’s real all the way down, and durable. You can’t have Champagne as your only beverage, no matter how much of a glamourpuss you are.

What is glitz? What gives it that blitz, that glint? What makes a spangle sparkle, a sequin scintillate, a crystal coruscate? Four things: a source of light, something capable of reflecting that light, eyes to see the light, and a situation in which the eyes will see the reflection in just the right way. It’s just like a word such as glitz: we have the sounds, the letters to represent them, a person to read the letters, and a language usage context in which that sound and spelling shines forth as the meaning. Take away any of those and it falls flat.

So enjoy it while you get it. And if it’s not what you want, don’t worry – it won’t last. Glitz flits to and from the spots it fits.

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