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Lexical Investigations: Flair

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The word flair has been around in English for a long time—since the mid-14th century—however, the senses that most English speakers are familiar with did not enter English until much later. While the noun form of flair entered English from the Old French word of the same spelling, this term ultimately came from the Late Latin verb fragrare, which meant “to smell sweet.”

It might surprise the non-hunting population of English speakers to learn that flair and fragrance come from the same Latin root; the original sense of flair, “scent” or “sense of smell,” is a hunting term and rarely used out of the context of dogs’ noses. It was not until the late 19th century that the “sense of smell” part of flair’s meaning was generalized to other senses. At this time people started using flair to describe the quality of having discerning intuition or “feelings” about something. By the 1920s, a new meaning of flair emerged, which departed from the five senses altogether. Now it simply meant that people had a talent or knack for something. Both these meanings are often followed by the word “for.” The most recent sense of flair gained popularity in the mid-20th century. For the first time, it was used to describe a person or thing with a sense of style.

Popular References
—Pieces of flair: in the hit 1999 film Office Space, Jennifer Aniston’s character is required to wear “pieces of flair”—basically tacky buttons—for her waitress job
—The Flairs: a 1950s all-male doo-wop group, original called The Debonaires

Relevant Quotations:
Frantz grew up a sheltered, highly precocious child, with an unusually solid background in the arts, a taste for stimulating society, and a highly developed flair for writing.
—Meredith L. Clausen, Frantz Jordain and the Samaritatine (1987)
What you lack in natural musical talent, dear, you make up for in flair and style.
—Fannie Flagg, I Still Dream About You (2010)
G. J. had a flair for finding lost objects, and always did it when not consciously looking for them.
—George Nugent Merle Tyrrell, Science and Psychical Phenomena (1938)
[W]e find, in hunting-dogs particularly, a vast preponderance of olfactory lobes over[…]their brain. What would such a dog be without his flair?
—Paul Carus, The Open Court, Volume 10 (1896)

14 Comments

  1. abhijeet -  January 19, 2014 - 1:16 am

    the flair of presenting words of dictionary.com has been ingenious.

    Reply
  2. marytonello -  December 17, 2013 - 9:43 pm

    I really enjoyed the works of words.

    Reply
  3. Nidnat Mystedin -  October 4, 2013 - 10:44 am

    The Flair for the “Words” had never stopped flaring up, since my discovery of Dictionary.com.

    Thank you very much Dictionary.com Team!

    Reply
  4. Layla Marbles -  September 30, 2013 - 7:14 am

    I think this is vey good, considering I’m 11.

    Reply
  5. hameed -  September 27, 2013 - 10:27 pm

    this is good for every studnet.

    Reply
  6. Akmal -  September 27, 2013 - 9:21 pm

    This is a pretty good search about the word. this article steps to boost knowledge.

    Reply
  7. warjna -  September 27, 2013 - 11:52 am

    Marg – sorry, that word you’re looking for is flare, as in to flare out, not flair.

    Reply
  8. Shreekant Malagi -  September 26, 2013 - 10:29 pm

    Really I enjoy reading such articles. Keep it up.

    Reply
  9. a.gopalakrishnan -  September 26, 2013 - 3:54 am

    very nice to read this word origin from latine

    Reply
  10. Zdenka Mánková -  September 26, 2013 - 3:04 am

    It si very very good, interesting and training memmory is necessary for prophylaxis Alz. disease.Zdenka.

    Reply
  11. Marg -  September 25, 2013 - 5:35 am

    What about “flair” in reference to a very full skirt?

    Reply
  12. Bailey -  September 24, 2013 - 4:55 pm

    Hi I wanted to dance but my city can’t.

    Reply
  13. Fifo Perez -  September 24, 2013 - 3:26 pm

    Very intereting and enlightening.
    Good work here!

    Reply

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