In a word: conge

October 01, 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:

CONGE

Knowing when it's time to say goodbye is central to using conge (pronounced KON-zhay), sometimes spelled congee.

The original sense of the word, back in the fifteenth century, is formal permission to depart. But the word mutated, as words will. It came to mean as well a ceremonious leave-taking, or a formal bow on taking one's leave. In time, it came to mean unceremonious dismissal. So it will depend on context for you to determine, when you're given your conge, whether you're being granted leave or merely being sacked.

The word has been around the block, the OED shows, as congye, congie, and coneye in Middle English, from Old French cungied, and ultimately from the Latin commeatus, "passage," "leave to pass."

Example: From Thackeray in Vanity Fair: Should she pay off old Briggs and give her her congé?


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