What is sprezzatura?

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: sprezzatura…

Many attribute God-like credentials to American writer John McPhee and hold his writing in awe. I do not.  In fact, I find some of it a bit hard to read.

That said, I very much enjoyed his March 9/15  New Yorker article headlined “Frame of Reference” in which he described how our collective vocabulary and common points of reference (as readers) are not only dwindling  but have been for centuries. “The dwindling may have become speedier,” he wrote, “but it is an old and continuous condition.”

In documenting that condition he writes, amusingly about the word sprezzatura, which I had never heard of, before. Here’s how he used it.

In the profile, Abe Crystal [a student writer] mentioned, without amplification, that Grainger David [president of an F. Scott Fitzgerald’s University Cottage Club] had “sprezzatura.” 

The word, as I learned from McPhee is a noun meaning “effortless grace or an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions while hiding the conscious effort that went into them.” The origin of the word is Italian and it comes from Baldassare Castiglione‘s The Book of the Courtierwhich was published in 1528.

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