• élan
  • audio pronunciation
  • \ay-LAHN\
  • DEFINITION

noun

: vigorous spirit or enthusiasm
  • EXAMPLES

The dance troupe performed with their usual grace and élan.

"That's the setting for [Tasha Alexander's] rollicking, popular series of mysteries featuring Lady Emily Hargreaves, a headstrong woman who smokes cigars, drinks port, reads Homer in the original Greek, slings witticisms with the ease of an Oscar Wilde and solves mysteries with the élan of a Sherlock Holmes. " — From a book review in the Chicago Tribune, December 4, 2011

  • DID YOU KNOW?

Once upon a time, English speakers did not have "élan" (the word, that is; that's not to say we haven't always had potential for vigorous spirit). We had, however, "elance," a verb meaning "to hurl" that was used specifically for throwing lances and darts. "Elance" derived down the line from Middle French "(s')eslancer" ("to rush or dash"), itself from "lancer," meaning "to hurl." With the decline of lance-throwing, we tossed out "elance" a century and half ago. Just about that time we found "élan," a noun that traces to "(s')eslancer." We copied "élan" in form from the French, but we dispensed with the French sense of a literal "rush" or "dash," retaining the sense of enthusiastic animation that we sometimes characterize as "dash."

Word Family Quiz: What relative of "élan" can mean "to set (a boat or ship) afloat"? The answer is ...

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