Some time ago I played in an old time string band. Whenever a particular musical acquaintance (who shall remain nameless) showed up at our rehearsals or shows, our banjo/guitar/harmonica/mandolin player’s capo would disappear. Thus, this post’s title.
For those of you who don’t know the word, a capo is a device used primarily by guitarists. It temporarily shortens the length of the strings, which changes the key without changing the fingerings.
Capo came to English in 1946 from Italian & Latin and means head stop. A capo stops the vibration of the strings early, functionally moving the head of the instrument closer to the instrument’s body.
The word capo can also refer to the head of a mafia family. This meaning entered English a few years later in 1952.
Capo has a couple of cousins with stories to tell.
Caprice means a sudden change of mind or whim, though it originally meant a shivering. It came to English in the 1660s from French. Though some believe its origins lie in the word capro, or goat, most evidence suggests that caprice comes from the Italian term capo riccio, meaning frizzled head, which suggests that one’s caprices can surprise one to the point that they curl the hair on one’s head.
The Italian term capo muffare meant to muffle the head. In time, this term made its way to Paris, where it became the French slang word camuffare, to disguise. According to a 1917 Popular Science Monthly article, the word camouflage was brought into English that same year by journalists to more efficiently describe military efforts to hide troops & artillery. In previous years, “Sometimes a whole paragraph was required to explain this military practice,” but the introduction to English of the word camouflage ended all that.
Just think of the trees we could save if all bureaucracies could engage in this one simple practice.
So, good readers, do your caprices curl the hair on your head? Do you have any suggestions of new words to take the place of complex concepts?
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Dictionary.com, Wordnik, Etymonline & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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