Thursday, September 18, 2008


Elizabeth asks if the word should be spelled chaperon or chaperone.

Both are found in dictionaries, but some commentators point out that the chaperone spelling is an incorrect Anglicization of a French word. Someone mistakenly thought that an -e- was needed at the end of the word to make it feminine. So it’s probably better to give preference to chaperon.

More interesting is its origin. It comes from an Old French word that meant a hood used to cover a person’s head protectively. The American Heritage Dictionary also points out that it was applied to the hood placed on a hawk’s head to keep it calm. [See the entry Hoodwink, August 21, 2006]

In a strange turn of events, it also meant a small escutcheon placed on the forehead of a horse pulling a hearse during a funeral procession. [1680]

By 1720, the transfer from a protective head covering to a protective person was complete. By then, it meant “a married or elderly woman, who, for the sake of propriety, accompanies a young unmarried lady in public as guide and protector.” [OED]

SIDEBAR: The Chaperon, by Henry James

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the chaperone spelling because the silent e at the end stresses the long o sound in the second syllable.

9:48 PM  

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