What’s a chaplet?

Word count: 328 words

Reading time: Just over 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: chaplet.

Do you ever find yourself reading a book or a piece of text and letting your eyes skid by the words you don’t know?

I used to do that all the time! Now, I try to be more mindful about looking up words I don’t recognize. (It helps that my Kindle has a dictionary which makes the task as easy as the click of a button.)

But my old habit came back to haunt me this morning. I had read Donna Tartt’s surprise bestseller  The Secret History more than ten years ago. (You can read the history of the compelling psychological thriller, here.) But this morning, I was surprised to discover a quote from it — contained in another book — displaying a word I didn’t recognize: chaplet. Here is the sentence:

[My] reflection…stopped and stared – hair on end, mouth agog in idiotic astonishment – like a comic book character konked on the head with an anvil, chaplet of stars and birdies twittering about the brow. 

Interestingly, even though I had grown up in a Catholic household, I had never before heard the word chaplet. It refers to a set of beads, in a ring, used for prayer. A rosary (with which I was very familiar) is one example of a chaplet but a chaplet needn’t be as long.

(Once I understood the meaning of the word, I liked Tartt’s use of it to symbolize the stars and birds that appear to encircle you when you’ve been hit on the head.)

The noun dates back to the Old French word capelet meaning  “garland,” or “rosary,” which, in turn came from the word chapeau for “hat.”

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