What is an ‘infanta’?

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: infanta…

When I stumbled across the word infanta, I knew I’d seen it before (and probably looked up its meaning) but I couldn’t recall it.

I encountered it in the novel The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst. Here is how he used it:

She just came in and sat [to be painted], and Johnny, feeling he’d met his match, made a bright infanta of her, in school uniform.

An infanta (also spelled infante if the child is male), it turns out, is a son or daughter of a ruling monarch. An infanta (ending in the letter A) especially refers to the eldest daughter who was not heir to the throne.

The word comes from the Latin infantem meaning “young child, babe in arms.” The -in part of the word means ‘not’ or ‘unable to’ and the -fans portion is the  present participle of fari meaning “to speak.”

The picture at the top of this post shows a portrait of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, sovereign of the Spanish Netherlands. It’s an image from the Prado museum in Madrid and it was painted by Alonso Sanchez Coello.