In a word: outré

June 23, 2014|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

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

OUTRÉ

English does not lack for words meaning "strange" or "unusual." We have bizarre, preposterous, grotesque, screwy, outlandish, and freaky, among many others. So there is no need to go looking for more in other languages. 

But English is not a formal garden where everything is espaliered.* The invasive plants grow quite abundantly among the native. In fact, a great many "native" words in English started out as invasive ones, from the Danes and Normans on. English is a big, unruly garden in which all kinds of odd things grow. 

So English has embraced the French outré (pronounced ooh-TRAY), meaning "highly unconventional," "eccentric," or "bizarre." It derives ultimately from the Latin ultra, "beyond," in the sense of exceeding the boundaries. 

Example: From a 2009 "Fashion Dairy" article in The New York Times (and where are you likelier to come across outré than in fashion coverage?): "As is usually the case with runway fashion, Mr. Browne’s outre ideas will be toned down and commercially adapted by the time the clothes reach stores."

  

*To espalier is to train a plant, by pruning and tying, to grow flat against a wall or trellis. 


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