When you look at someone who has the sun behind him, what is it that you normally see? Usually you can’t see anything; all you see is a dark shape. Its very difficult to make out who the person is. This dark outline that you see of an object or person against a bright background is referred to as a silhouette.

*As the sun began to slowly rise, one could see the dark silhouette of the fort. *Silhouetted against the bright lights was a figure of an old woman.

The first syllable rhymes with “fill”, “pill”, and “bill”, the following “o” is like the “oo” in “pool”, “fool”, and “cool”. The final “ette” is like the “et” in “pet”, “bet”, and “set”. The main stress is on the final syllable. This is one way of pronouncing the word.

Etienne de Silhouette was a French author and politician who lived in the 18th Century. During this period, in the world of art, the silhouette portrait had become a rage. While the common man fell in love with the silhouette, art critics took great delight in rubbishing it. When de Silhouette became the finance minister, he reduced the budget for the nobility, tripled the taxes on bachelors, and did many other things, which made him very unpopular with the powers that be. In order to ridicule the man, the aristocrats began to apply his name to what they believed was meaningless art. Also, men’s clothing without pockets began to be called “a la silhouette” — meaning “on the cheap”. The man became so unpopular that he was forced to resign. This is one theory. Some other scholars believe that Silhouette’s hobby was to cut profile portraits of individuals out of black paper — hence the name silhouette.

The Hindu- ‘Know Your English’ Series, July 5, 2004.


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