What’s a balustrade?

Word count: 232 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

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: balustrade.

I’ve known for years — decades, even — that the group of spindles underneath the railing in a set of stairs was called a balustrade.

What I didn’t know was that the individual spindles were called balusters. The ones shown in the photo, above, are from my own home. They’re pretty plain vanilla but we’re happy that they’re made of fir and suit the general character of our 1913 home.

I recently encountered the noun balustrade, in the novel The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. Here is the sentence in which I found it:

Before going to bed that night, I spent a few minutes by the terrace balustrade, between the shadows cast by the marble statues.

I didn’t know the origin of the term but if forced to guess, would have said French because it seems to have the style and elegance of a French word. And, sure enough, I was almost right! Balustrade dates back to the 1640s, from the French balustrade. But here’s the twist: it came originally from Italian balaustrata, meaning “provided with balusters,” from balaustro “pillar.” Now that I think about it, the rolling L is much more Italian than French.

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