Root: the Latin gaudium, meaning enjoyment or merry-making, 16th Century.
I had already decided on my word for the week when an innocuous looking Italian gentleman recklessly thwarted my plans. We were standing in front of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona when he said: did you know the word ‘gaudy’ comes from ‘Gaudi’?
Now, to be fair, it’s not really his fault. I mean, he’s Italian.
So whose fault is it?
Gaudi’s. Yep. Antoni Gaudi.
My long-time architectural muse, and designer of surreal, convention-defying buildings. The Salvador Dali of architecture. His buildings and furniture are thoroughly tripped out. The Sagrada Familia is on such a grand scale, so unique yet so redolent of the other Gothic cathedrals I’ve seen throughout Europe, that it’s a headtrip to try to take it in.
So, gaudy derives from Gaudi?
Swept up in the romantic notion that the word ‘gaudy’ – an homage to Gaudi – must be preserved at all costs, I devised a campaign. A Save Gaudy Campaign. It went a bit like this:
Born ‘Gaudi’ in 1852, the word entered common usage as gaudy in 1926 after Antoni’s death. Gaudy came to mean bright or garish in colour, often to an unpleasant degree.
Has it come to anyone’s attention that gaudy is no longer a cool word?
How can we help ‘gaudy’ to survive?
1. Throw a ‘gaudy’ themed party, inviting everyone to show up in their Vinnie’s best. Must be fluoro, colourful and creative.
2. Replace words like kitsch, retro, bling and loud with gaudy. NB: Go to any Sydney market, music or arts festival and you will have countless opportunities to observe gaudiness in practice. It’s all around us, we just need to open our minds!
3. Initiate a ‘Friday gaud up’ after work: a worthy alternative to the frock up! Sure, it’s not entirely correct usage, but when it comes to saving those words struggling to survive, concessions must be made.
4. Disregard the traditional negative connotation, and use it as a positive. We did it for ‘shit’ (that’s the shit). We can do it for gaudy. For example, you’re looking so gaudy today (ie cool).
5. Try out a traditional Aussie abbreviation. ‘She’s such a gauds chick.’ It works.
OK. I am here again to tell you, it doesn’t work. She’s so gauds? Please.
I was so swept away by the visionary design of the cathedral that my linguistic faculties were disarmed. I was vulnerable. My judgement compromised.
In my defense, I do remember being surprised that the word was so young. And it’s not unheard of for words to be coined in honour of a great artistic mind: think Orwellian and Hemingwayesque.
The truth is gaudy, like so many English words, finds its origins in Latin: merrymaking. It is still used in that sense by certain UK Universities, which host ‘gaudies’: a fun night out. But most of the time it just means unpleasantly bright.
The other supposed origin of the word is a plant, the Reseda luteola. The dye extracted from the plant was termed gaudy green, derived from the French name for the plant: gaude.
But how unexciting is that?!
I don’t really want to save gaudy after all!
Pesky little word.
In peace and wordliness.