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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, January 28, 2011

A good turn

Billy Elliot The Musical opens in Toronto next week, and in honour of all those children, and especially the boys, who choose to become ballet dancers, our word of the week is “pirouette”. In medieval France, a pirouette was a child's spinning top or whirligig. The French word was derived from the Italian piro (peg or pin), and was possibly influenced by two other French words: rouet (spinning wheel) and girouette (windvane). When the word first came into English, it described a circular move performed not by a dancer, but by a horse on its hind legs!
PS: If you're a ballet fan, head on over to my ballet blog, toursenlair.blogspot.com


  1. Hello,

    I wonder how did Italians (and their cousins) do to switch from the Latin/Greek (?) "pyro" (very close - through the alternance p/f - to the Germanic fire/Feuer) to fuoco/feu/fuego/foc.


  2. How interesting, I had no idea that was the meaning of pirouette!


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.