I was hunched in my windowless corner office nursing a double. I was dry as an unirrigated field in California’s 500-year drought. Maybe the last gully-washer knocked a few years off the rating, but I was in a dry state, no question. It wasn’t just my throat that was parched either. Business had dried up and blown away like the last tumbleweed of summer.
I was rubbing some nickels together in hopes of producing a quarter when the new barista slipped a tiny pumpkin loaf in front of me.
“On the house,” she said without moving her lips.
I smiled involuntarily. “That’s a novel get-up,” I said, indicating her leotard top, which was long-sleeved on one side, sleeveless on the other.
“You got that right.”
As her sleeve moved into a beam of light, my hand instinctively dove for the pearl-handled implement in the pocket of my trench coat. The “sleeve” was not made of cloth but tattoos – minuscule marks marching like ants around her arm. Raising the pearl-handled magnifier, I saw that the lines of ants were words – thousands of them.
I gazed downward, but her boot-cut jeans kept their secret.
“So, tell me, Lexie, why is something new and different called novel? Is it so unbelievably inventive that it must be fictitious?”
“Well, you gave me a freebie, so this one’s on me. It’s the other way around. The adjective novel, meaning ‘new,’ ‘of recent origin,’ ‘unusual’ or ‘fresh’ entered English around 1400 from Anglo-Norman and Middle French novel, ultimately from classical Latin novellus belonging to recent times, new, young, fresh, etc., from novus new + the diminutive suffix –ellus.
“The noun novel had several meanings in English before the one we use today.”
“Hold that thought. I’ve got customers at the counter.”
So I bade a temporary farewell to arms, tattooed and plain.
Got a question about a word or phrase? Ask Lexie in a comment.