What is ‘gouache’?

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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: gouache…

My late mother, Ethel, was an artist. Her medium was pastel chalks so I never heard her mention the word gouache but I recognized it as an art term, even though I didn’t know exactly what it was.

I encountered the word in the thriller Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. Here’s how Hawley used it:

There are worn gouache splotches on his white Keds, faded white and some are blue.

In terms of its consistency, gouache is most like watercolor, and comes in small, very concentrated portions. Like watercolor, it is often diluted with water before being applied to paper. However, unlike watercolor (and more like acrylic), gouache is opaque, and only becomes translucent when a larger amount of water is used to dilute it.

I had always assumed the word was French, based on the arrangement of vowels (pronunciation is: gwash) but it turns out the word was originally Italian, from guazzo, meaning “watercolour.” Before that, it was Latin, aquatio meaning “watering, watering place.”

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on May 2/18.

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