Panache, pegs and pinafores

One thing we discussed last night at the French Conversation Group was whether panache means the same thing in French as it does in English.

According to the OED, panache [/pəˈnaʃ/ (UK) /pəˈnæʃ/ (USA)] comes from the Middle French pennache, which originally meant a tuft or plume of feathers, and by the late 19th century had come to mean “manly elegance or swagger, chivalrous or heroic courage, flamboyance, elegance, style”.

Pennache comes from the Italian pennacchio (plume), from the post-classical Latin pinnāculum, a dimmunitive of pinna (wing, feather, pointed peak), which comes from the Proto-Indo-European *bend- (something protruding). Other words that possibly come from the same root include pin, peg, pinafore, pinion and pinacle.

According to Le Dictionnaire, the French word panache means:

– ornement composé de plumes flottantes, placé sur une coiffure = an ornament of floating feathers worn on the head
– élément qui rappelle la forme de cet ornement = something resembling such an ornament
– surface triangulaire du pendentif d’une voûte en forme de sphère = a triangular area of a roof pendant in the shape of a sphere
– (au sens figuré) élégance et brio = (figuratively) elegance and panache

According to Reverso, panache can also mean:
– a plume (of smoke/water) = une panache (de fumée/d’eau)
– showiness

Some examples:
– avec panache = gallantly
– sans panache = unimpressive

A related word is panaché, which means:

– décoré de couleurs variées = decorated with various colours / varigated / colourful
– composé de différents éléments = made up of different parts / mixed
– boisson qui est composée de bière et de limonade = shandy (a mixture of beer/lager and lemonade)

Some examples:
– glace panachée = mixed ice cream
– salade panachée = mixed salad
– œillet panaché = variegated carnation

The verb panacher (to mix) also exists.

An alternative way to say ‘with great panache’ is avec maestria.

4 thoughts on “Panache, pegs and pinafores

  1. I can’t believe it!!! I was discussing the same word 2 day’s ago with some of my friends, and when I said what you explained here they disagree with me, we didn’t have a possibility to check it up, but now I will send the link to all of them to rest my case… 🙂

    Thank you!!


  2. Interesting how the same word can take on two different meanings in two different languages even though one language actually borrowed the word from the other to begin with. People are funny.


  3. Well, when people borrow a word from another language, the meaning of that word goes on to evolve in the language that borrowed it. People can hardly be expected to preserve the original meaning intact when they don’t actually know the language it was borrowed from. That’s just how language works; it changes. There was a time when lots of native English-speakers also spoke French, but now monolingualism seems to be the norm in the US and Britain (and possibly various other English-speaking countries), so most people in these countries would have no idea what something like “panache” originally meant in French.

  4. I just learned the term panachage at a convention two weeks ago for a Canadian organisation working for proportional representation. Apparently in Belgium and some other jurisdictions using party list voting, it’s possible for voters to select candidates from different lists, a practice known as panachage. I get the impression this has something to do with the mix and match of colours you see in variegated (panachées) leaves (or in some of the mixing-related senses Simon gave).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.