Monday, January 27, 2014

A Flair to Remember

I recently encountered this bit of vivid writing in a music review: “A pianist of flashy, almost rococo, technique, he executed the complicated cadenza with great flare.”  Hmmm. Among his spectacular qualities, he also seems to be a pyromaniac.

The flare with which he attacked all those black and white keys is “a fire or blaze of light used to signal or illuminate.”  The noun was first used around 1580, but its etymological origin is unknown.

As a verb flare has two meanings.  One is to “burst out in flame or violent emotion,” like a tea party member when Obamacare is mentioned.  The other is to “open and spread outward,” like the nostrils of a tea party member when Obamacare is mentioned.  In the latter sense it may spring from the Dutch word vlederen, to “flutter.”

What the reviewer probably meant was flair, meaning “style, or a uniquely attractive quality.”  A much more recent word in English, from around 1880, it derives from Old French flairier, which, rather surprisingly, means, “to give off an odor” and has its root in the Latin fragrare. 

Many critics urge that a flare be applied to every scrap of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou’s hen-scratchings, which, unfortunately, are not quite illegible enough to be ignored while they are still intact.

            A man hailed a taxi with flair,
            Said he had to get to the fair.
                        But the taxi broke down
                        On the way out of town,
            And the fare hailed a new cab with flare.
            That cabbie called his wife to declare
            “I’ll be late home, ‘cause I have a fare.”
                        When he got home, she shot him,
                        Then explained why she got him:
            “I thought he said ‘an affair’.”

            A tough guy who swaggered with flair
            Pinned a red rose in his hair.
                        Dressed in high heels and pearls
                        Just like one of the girls—
           Now his picture’s in Vanity Fair.

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