French gift

I’m sure you know that the French word for “gift” is cadeau, but have you ever asked yourself why? No? Well, I just did and was rather surprised by the answer. It is so different from the Italian (regalo/dono) and the Spanish (regalo) and the Portuguese (presente). It seems that it derives ultimately from Latin caput (=”head”). It got into French via Proven├žal, where the word appeared as capdel, deriving from capitellum in Latin. The original meaning of the 15th century French word was “capital letter”, or “calligraphic or rhetorical embellishment”. By the 17th century it had acquired the meaning “entertainment offered to a lady”. Its current meaning appeared in the 18th century.

Another surprise was that the Romanian for “gift” is cadou.

2 thoughts on “French gift

  1. Dutch, too, has borrowed the French word — which may be written either with the original spelling or as “kado”, and has a diminutive form: cadeautje / kadotje.

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