In a word: parvenu

August 06, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be acquainted--another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


The Mark Twain character who says, "A year ago, I hadn't a nickel to my name, and today I owe a million dollars," represents a typical American type, the nobody who has suddenly become somebody. The word for someone who bursts on the scene from previous obscurity is parvenu (pronounced PAR-vuh-noo).

A parvenu is someone of humble background who has newly acquired wealth or power and is not fully accepted into the new social class where he (the word is masculine, parvenue the feminine) has arrived. He is an upstart.

The word is French, from parvenire, "to arrive," ultimately from the Latin pervenire, "to come to," "reach." Evidently the French relish looking down their noses with boundless scorn, for they have additional words for the same phenomenon, arriviste, an upstart newly arrived on the scene, and nouveau riche, newly, and presumably vulgarly, rich.

Example: Eric Partridge, the British lexicographer, wrote, "A word begins its career as a parvenu."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.