Adventures in Etymology – Bizarre

Today we’re looking into the strange and unusual origins of the word bizarre.


Bizarre [bɪˈzɑː/bəˈzɑɹ] means:

  • markedly unusual in appearance, style, or general character and often involving incongruous or unexpected elements
  • outrageously or whimsically strange
  • odd

It comes from the French bizarre [bi.zaʁ] (odd, peculiar, bizarre), either from the Basque bizar [bis̻ar] (beard), or from the Italian bizzarro [bidˈd͡] (odd, queer, eccentric, bizarre, weird, frisky), possibly from bizza (tantrum), from the German beißen [ˈbaɪ̯sən] (to bite) [source].

In French backslang (Verlan), bizarre becomes zarbi [source] and features in the expression On est tous un peu zarbi(tes) (We’re all a little freaky), or as they as in northern England, There’s nowt so queer as folk [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly – an easy-to-use animated video creator [affiliate link].

I also write about words, etymology, and other language-related topics, on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

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