What’s a ‘reticule’?

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: reticule….

Even though I am moderately well read, my reading history has huge lacunae or gaps. For example, I’ve never made it through George Eliot‘s Middlemarch, even though I’ve tried twice (and made it to just past page 375 both times). I’ve also missed Virgina Woolf, and until recently, Edith Wharton.

Determined to remedy that last oversight, I finally picked up her famous novel The Age of Innocence. Although I still haven’t made it all the way through (I’m frequently distracted by more contemporary novels), I was delighted when it gave me my word of the week, reticule. Here is how Wharton used the term:

In the centre of this enchanted garden Madame Nilsson, in white cashmere slashed with pale blue satin, a reticule dangling from a blue girdle, and large yellow braids carefully disposed on each side of her muslin chemisette, listened with downcast eyes to M. Capoul’s impassioned wooing, and affected a guileless incomprehension of his designs whenever, by word or glance, he persuasively indicated the ground-floor window of the neat brick villa projecting obliquely from the right wing.

A reticule is a drawstring handbag or purse. You can see a modern version in the image at the top of this post. In Wharton’s day, of course, the purse would likely have been beaded or tasseled. In the 1800s, the word was French, réticule meaning “a net for the hair.” But the origin of the word is the Latin reticulum meaning “a little net, network bag” etc.