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What is the origin of the word ‘silhouette’?

Étienne de Silhouette (1709–67) was a French author and politician. Why he gave his name to the dark outline of something against a brighter background remains obscure. One account says that the word ridiculed the petty economies Silhouette introduced while holding the office of Controller General, while another refers to the shortness of his occupancy of that post. A scholarly French dictionary suggested that Silhouette himself made outline portraits with which he decorated the walls of his château at Bry-sur-Marne. More than two centuries on, we shall probably never know the truth.

Read more about things named after French people on the OxfordWords blog.

From Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins ©2010.

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