Gaudí gaudy or gaudy Gaudí?

My wife and I are enjoying a long weekend in beautiful Barcelona, a city graced with the dreamy and daring architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Many like to claim that English gets its word gaudy thanks to the architect’s distinctive style. Gaudí looks and sounds like gaudy. Some may even characterize his works as gaudy. But this etymology is as fanciful as Gaudi’s buildings.

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The adjective “gaudy” likely comes from the noun “gaudy,” an old term for an ornamental bead on the Catholic rosary. Image by Maureen Shryock, courtesy of www.freeimages.com

Gaudy

Gaudí was born in 1852. English has been using the adjective gaudy since the early 1500s. That takes care of this bit of folk etymology. But just as Gaudí’s structures are exuberant in shape, texture, and color, so the origin of gaudy enjoys its own “exuberant” origins.

A gaudy once named a larger ornamental bead on Catholic rosaries. This word (1434) is a variant or mistaken plural of gaud (1390), which also named a “trinket” or “bauble.” Ornamental beads lead to ornamental gewgaws, which lead to the adjective gaudy for something “excessively ornate.” This usage is attested by the late 16th century. Earlier in the century, gaudy signified “luxurious” fare but also something “full of trickery” – and such merry-making indeed points us to the deeper roots of the word.

Gaud, the prayer bead, ultimately seems to come from the Latin gaudium, “joy.” In the saying of the Rosary, gaudies marked the so-called Joyful Mysteries, or gaudia in Latin, a set of prayers associated with the early life of Jesus Christ. At the root of gaudium is gaudēre, “to rejoice” or “be merry.” Filtered through French, the -joice in rejoice also comes from gaudēre, as does joy, enjoy, and perhaps even the word jewel. Indo-European philologists root Latin’s gaudēre in *gau-, “to rejoice,” although the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots notes it carried the special sense of “to have religious fear or awe” – an experience some have before Gaudí’s work.

Gaudy is also featured in the archaic word gaudy-green, a “yellowish green” that gets its color from dye made out of the weld plant. This gaudy appears to come from the Old French gaude, meaning “weld,” but perhaps its bright, flashy color influenced the ostentation we associate with gaudy.

And as for the name Gaudí? The origin of the family name is unclear, but some think that it comes from the French gaudir, “to enjoy” – which is from the very same Latin root gaudēre. So, it turns out that Gaudí didn’t lend his name to gaudy, but that gaudy, in an etymological manner of speaking, lent its name to Gaudí. Now that’s whimsical.

m ∫ r ∫

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3 thoughts on “Gaudí gaudy or gaudy Gaudí?

  1. It’s true that “Gaudy” does not come from the catalan surname “Gaudí” but, as a matter of fact, not only “gaudy” has its origins in the Middle Age era, so does the catalan surname “Gaudí” and, further than that, both words come from the same origin; the latin word “Gaudēre”. So Gaudy also did not lend in any way its name to Gaudí.

    As said in your entry above; “Gaudy” most likely comes from the ancient English word “gaud” that comes from the French “Gaudir” which, like the Latin word where it comes from, (“Gaudēre”), means “to joy”, “to enjoy”, “to rejoice” or “be merry.”

    But we can also find the word “Gaudir” in the ancient (and also modern) Catalan language having the same mentioned meaning and the same Latin origin as its French equivalent.

    Derived from the Catalan verb “Gaudir” we find the Middle Age noun “Gaudí”. A “Gaudí” was anyone who, even though he was not a cavalier, militiaman, honourable citizen, or titled noble, could enjoy [“gaudir”] (that means; to have) the privileges of the military class due to his job or status [See “gaudí” entry in the official Catalan language dictionary at http://www.diccionari.cat/lexicx.jsp?GECART=0069107 ].

    In the Middle Age people started to be differentiated one from the others by their job (like “Smith” or “Herrero” in Spanish), origin (like “Oxford” or “Toledo”), condition (like “Bald” or “Calvo” in Spanish ), or status (like “Cavalier” or the one that occupies us; “Gaudí”), etc. That was the origins of the surnames and the origin of our famous catalan architect Antoni Gaudí.

    So as we can see there’s really a connection between “Gaudy” and “Gaudí” but in an indirect way.

    Having said that; hope you enjoyed a lot your staying in Barcelona/Catalonia 🙂

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    1. Thank you for this very illuminating insight into Catalan and the social construction of the name “Gaudí.” “Cavalier” vs. “Gaudí”: Absolutely fascinating. I’ll be sure to pick your brain next time I’m diving into a word with close ties to the Catalan language and culture. And yes, I had a lovely stay in Barcelona, such welcoming people and such a magical city. It’s definitely one of my favorite cities I’ve had the pleasure to visit–and I hope to be back often.

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