What’s an escutcheon?

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: escutcheon….

I am currently reading the delightful novel A Gentleman in Moscow, a gift from a friend. Written by a man with the improbable name Amor Towles (a brief internet search could not verify whether the name was genuine or a nom de plume) the book is both erudite and literary. It has also given me my word of the week, escutcheon.

Here is how Towles used it:

Nina slid the key from its chain and handed it to the Count so that he could do the honors. Slipping it through the skull-shaped hole in the escutcheon, the Count turned gently and listened as the tumblers fell into place with a satisfying click.

I felt badly educated when I learned that an ecutcheon is a flat piece of metal for protection and often ornamentation, around a keyhole, door handle, or light switch. I’ve seen a million of those in my lifetime, although most aren’t as charming as the heart-shaped one photographed, above. (An alternative definition of escutcheon is the heraldic term referring to a shield or shield-shaped emblem, displaying a coat of arms.)

The etymology of the word dates back to the late 15th century: from Anglo-Norman French escuchon, based on Latin scutum meaning ‘shield.’