apropos
adv. Of an appropriate or pertinent nature

You might guess, just from looking at the word, that it isn’t pronounced as spelled. In fact, the word is French, sometimes spelled à propos or àpropos, and pronounced (in a rough English) “Ah pruh po.”

Literally, the word means “to the purpose,” and is a straightforward loan word directly from French.

My impetus for doing this week’s Wednesday’s Word on apropos is because it occurred to me only recently that the delightful word “malapropism” may be a form of the word. That is “[not] to the purpose,” or inappropriate. The word is formed, logically, from the French mal à propos, but the word “malapropism” in reference to a misused word is derived from Mrs. Malaprop, a character in a 1775 play by Richard Sheridan.

Though I would have thought there was a connection, the English “appropriate” does not spring directly from this lineage. Our “appropriate” is from the Middle English appropriaten, from Latin appropriatus, from proprius (one’s own, private), which is the ancestor of our modern “proprietary.”

The French propos, from whence comes today’s entry, however, is ultimately from the Latin proponere, or “to propose,” and not connected to “apropos.” The French for this phenomenon is simply something like mal approprié.

So, even though they can be used interchangeably in their modern English versions, the two words have distinct etymologies and don’t share a common root, as I supposed before I began this entry. Language is so curious.

§3644 · March 4, 2009 · Tags: , ·

1 Comment to “Wednesday’s Word: apropos”

  1. Conor says:

    That was wonderfully educational. I would have bet lots that apropos was related to appropriate, both stemming from "proprietary."

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