Word of the day – glisser

glisser, verb = to slide, slip, glide

Examples of usage
le beateau glissait sur les eaux = the boat glided over the water
ils glissèrent le long de la pente dans le ravin = they slid down the slope into the gully
le voleur leur a glissé entre les mains = the thief slipped through their fingers

Related words
glissade = slide, slip, skid
glissant = slippery
glissoire = (ice/snow) slide

I haven’t an particularly reason for slipping this word in today – I just like the sound of it.

The equivalent words in Irish are also interesting: sleamhnaigh (to slide, slip, slither), sleamhain (slippery, smooth, sleek), as are the Welsh words: llithro (to glide, slide, slip, skid, slither) and llithrig (slippery)

This entry was posted in French, Language, Words and phrases.

10 Responses to Word of the day – glisser

  1. Polly says:

    In sheet music notation (for the piano) you will sometimes come across, “gliss” which is an abbreviation for glissando. This means to slide your fingers accross the keys rapidly, usually for a few octaves, to make that familiar sound – which I can’t really explain in words.

  2. Zachary says:

    For some reason I don’t think “glide” would be an appropriate translation, it sounds odd. From english to french it works, but from french to english I would just keep it “to slide”. It probably sounds wrong because in english, you can ‘glide in the airs with a glider’, while in french this is ‘planer dans les airs avec un planeur’. Just in my oppinion, the sentences are a bit rough too.

  3. AR says:

    On the piano, as well as other instruments where each note is a specific key, button, or fingering, a glissando is played as a rapid succession of chromatic keys. Does anyone know if this holds true for other types of instruments such as string instruments, if they are able to play glissandos?

  4. Joseph Staleknight says:

    Thank you for the musical info, AR.

    I find that word pleasing to my ear, too, Simon.

  5. Simon says:

    AR – you can play a glissando, or something like it, on most instruments. It works best on unfretted string instruments (violins, cellos, etc), and trombones.

    In the clarient solo at the beginning of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue there’s a lovely multi-octave glissando that you play by sliding your fingers off the keys gradually. It’s very difficult to play well.

  6. Glissando, as most other music notations, is an Italian word (a gerund). Curiously, the verb it comes from, glissare, was not found in Italian dictionaries, until relatively recent editions (late 20th century) finally included it, almost as a neologism. In fact, its meaning today is purely metaphoric: it means “in a conversation or a debate, to turn down a thorny topic swiftly, in order to avoid it”, thanks to the speaker’s ability in finding the right connection for switching to another topic, etc.
    Therefore, when ‘glissando’ was first introduced in music notation, it was clearly borrowed from French, although it was Italianized in compliance with the classic custom of using Italian terms.
    Regardless of the language, the root “gliss-” is onomatopoeic, as its sound suggests the meaning that all these words mainly point to (“to slide, glide, slip”).
    I was not able to retrieve its etymology; any help from French native speakers?

  7. Zachary says:

    For “Glisser” I got this from the Trésor dictionary: at the end of the XIIth century, glicier “to move in a continuous motion, voluntary or not, on a smooth surface or along another body, by given impulse.” Along the years it merged with the french ‘gliier’ and ‘glacier’ (to ice), the netherland ‘gliden’ and german ‘gliden/gliten/gleiten’.

    According to the Littré, it’s borrowed from german ‘glitschen/glitsen’. But it says the most ancient word used is the french ‘glacier’ (slip, slide) which comes from the word ice.

    So no one knows for sure if it’s purely german origin or if it’s french or a mix of both.

  8. The semantic connection with “ice” makes good sense, and sounds very likely.
    Thanks, Zachary.

  9. Simon from Oxford says:

    I love the word “glisser” too.

    Best use i’ve heard is this line from Souad Massi’s song “Paris” – in a duet with Marc Lavoine.
    “J’me glisse dans tes cinés”.
    You have to hear her sing it to get its full meaning….

  10. epingchris says:

    I love this word too. And I love that song too, although I don’t really get its full meaning, since most French lyrics are loaded with subtle metaphor which with my novice French ability are not understandable.

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