What does the word ‘badinage’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: badinage…

When I read the word badinage I could guess at its meaning from context.

It appeared in the highly-praised new novel by Susan Choi, Trust Exercise, which I’ve written about.

Here is how Choi used the term:

Martin and Liam and Mr. Kingsley, entirely ignoring their students, trading theatrical badinage between their improperly utilized chairs, formed not a clique, grown-ups being understood not to form cliques but another sort of unit, perhaps best called a club.

I assumed the word meant back-and-forth story-telling, in the same way that a badminton shuttlecock might travel back-and-forth across a net.

Turns out I was close, but not entirely correct. Badinage refers specifically to humorous or witty conversation  — of much the sort that Frasier and Niles Crane (pictured above) practiced during their long-running television show, Frasier.

As I did guess correctly, the root of the word is French, from badiner, meaning ‘to joke.’

And, incidentally, the word has nothing in common with badminton. The source of that word comes from Badminton House, name of Gloucestershire estate of the Duke of Beaufort, where the game first was played in England in the mid-19th century. The place name is Old English Badimyncgtun (972),  meaning, “estate of (a man called) Baduhelm.”

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on May 22/19.

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