Portrait of Saskia van Uylenburgh by Rembrandt

Portrait of Saskia van Uylenburgh by Rembrandt (1606-69)





The adjective gorgeous now means beautiful, very attractive; very pleasant or enjoyable. Its original meaning was, of persons then of things, adorned with rich or brilliant colours, splendid, showy, magnificent.





Dating back to the late 15th century, gorgeous is from the Old French adjective gorgias, feminine gorgiase, which meant:
– of persons: elegantly or finely dressed, fashionable, showy, swaggering
– of things: delicate, elegant, stylish, gracious, pleasant.

For example, in A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), Randle Cotgrave translated gorgias, gorgiase, as:

Gorgeous, gaudy, flaunting, brave, gallant, gay, fine, trim; quaintly clothed, richly attired, sumptuously apparelled; also glorying, delighting, or pleased, in bravery; also, feeding, or battling with mirth.

As a noun, un gorgias, une gorgiase, denoted an affectedly elegant man or woman. But un gorgias also denoted an elaborate female garment covering the neck and breast as well as a child’s bib, which must have been its original meanings. In the above-mentioned dictionary, Randle Cotgrave defined the noun gorgias as a synonym of gorgerette, meaning:

A gorget, mocket, bib, or breast-cloth.

The word must therefore be derived from French gorge in its senses of the throat, the front of the neck and by extension the bosom. Interestingly, the obsolete phrase rire à la gorgiase (rire: to laugh) was synonymous with the modern rire à gorge déployée, or rire à pleine gorge, meaning to roar with laughter.

The French verb se rengorger literally means, of a bird, to puff out its throat, and figuratively, of a person, to puff oneself up, to be full of oneself. This figurative use can be compared to that of the English noun swell in the sense of a fashionable or stylishly dressed person of wealth or high social position.

French gorge is from popular Latin gurga, an alteration of classical Latin gurges, a raging abyss, whirlpool, gulf, hence figuratively:
– of insatiable craving: an abyss
– of persons: a spendthrift.

Latin gurges is from a root meaning to swallow, shared by:
gula, the gullet, weasand, throat, hence figuratively gluttony, appetite (cf. French gueule, the mouth of an animal)
glu(t)tire, to swallow or gulp down (cf. English deglutition), hence glu(t)to, a glutton.

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