Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Bizarre - An Odd Word with an Angry History

Studded, Nose rings, Earring, Man,
Photo by Skinbobs


Adjective & noun. Mid-17th century.
[French from Italian bizzarro angry, of unknown origin. Compare Spanish and Portuguese bizarro handsome, brave.]

A1. adjective. Eccentric, fantastic, grotesque. M17

A2. Designating variegated forms of garden flowers, as carnations, tulips, etc. M18

B1 noun. A bizarre carnation, tulips, etc. L18

B2 absolute. The bizarre quality of things; bizarre things. M19

Also: bizarrely adverb L19. bizarreness noun E20. bizarrerie noun bizarre quality M18.

A girlfriend once told me that I use the word bizarre a lot. From this, I concluded that I either really liked the word bizarre (and I do), that my threshold for what I consider bizarre was rather low, or that I needed to expand my active vocabulary to include other similarly queer synonyms (such as curious, fantastic, grotesque, singular, etc). It was probably a combination of all three.

Bizarre is a fittingly curious word. There are only three other biz- words in the Shorter OED, being biz, bizarro (which hardly counts) and bizcacha; the zarr formation is similarly odd. As for its etymology, this too is steeped in mystery. For some time it was thought that it was a word of Basque origin meaning 'beard' (the idea being that some clean-shaven French folk found the look of bearded Basque soldiers odd). Most sources, however, are now settled on the idea that bizarre comes from French through the Italian word bizzarro, meaning 'angry', which is similarly appropriate as many people become inexplicably angry when they encounter the bizarre or unfamiliar. The ultimate origin of bizzarro, however, is a mystery.

Do you like the word bizarre?

Is there anything out there that you find particularly bizarre? Do you get angry when you encounter it?

Do please leave your oddest comments below.


  1. Maybe it's just me, but I really wouldn't like waking up next to someone looking like the person in the picture. He might be a really nice chap and all, but he also looks really scary ><

    Bizarre means angry in French? I think not. No, I think not. Also, this.

    1. It's definitely not just you, Bibi - that's not a face I'd like to wake up next to each morning either.

      As for bizarre meaning angry in French - no it doesn't. The OED traces back bizarre from English, through French and ultimately to Italian 'bizarro', and it's this Italian word that is given as 'angry'. Not being a language scholar, I can only quote the various sources, but they're pretty convincing.

      Firstly, it's not just the OED - both Merriam Webster and Collins dictionaries give 'bizarre' as being of French origin through Italian, as does the Merriam-Webster 'New Book of Word Histories' and the book 'Why Do Languages Change?' by Larry Trask and the Cambridge University Press (interestingly, all of these references roundly reject the Basque origin). Finally, through this romantic and mysterious route (Unknown, Italian, French, English), we have bizarre in its modern place, which seems to correspond to the modern French meaning too, as my trusty Collins 'Pocket French Dictionary' gives the definition of 'bizarre' as 'strange, odd'.

    2. Hmm. Reading back what I've written, I can see that my wording was unclear. I've corrected 'from the French and Italian word ...' to 'from French through the Italian word ...' That's a bit clearer (I think). Eek!

  2. Yikes!
    That picture gives me the heebie-greebies!
    Each to their own though I guess!!

    I don't think I've ever felt anger over something I've thought of as bizarre. More curious than anything I think.

  3. Hey! That could be my face, I could have feelings (admittedly slightly leaky feelings), and I could think you all look bizarre.

    -Pierced Brosnan.

  4. I also have an affinity to using "bizarre" to describe strange things/occurrences. I think it's such an attractive word because the word "bizarre" is actually pretty bizarre.

    1. It is an attractive word isn't it? Yes, I agree. I think that might have been part of the reason I used it so much.

  5. Just discovered this song, just for this comment

    It's one of those videos you watch and you can only think of three words "what the ...?"

    1. Ha! You know, Evi, I considered putting that video in the post, but in the end I just couldn't bring myself to do it. For whatever reason, and I honestly don't know why, I really cannot stand that song - it's just one of those random pieces of music that gets under my skin! : o D

  6. Never has a bizarre thing that has happened or that I've seen made me angry. Maybe it's puzzled me or made me think 'how weird'...interesting meaning!!

    1. Well that's good - things that are bizarre alone shouldn't be cause for anger.

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