Debbie Reynolds, Famous for Playing 'Ingenues', Dies at 84

Lookups for 'ingenue' spiked following the death of Debbie Reynolds.

Lookups for ingenue spiked on December 29, 2016, after the word was used in The New York Times's obituary for Debbie Reynolds. Ingenue means “a naïve girl or young woman” or “the stage role of an ingenue or an actress playing such a role.” Reynolds's first roles in the 1950s famously projected a wholesome, good-girl image. As one of the last stars of the studio system at MGM, one of the last leading ladies who also sang and danced, and one of the stars of Singing in the Rain, she was truly a Hollywood legend.

Ingenue came to English from French in the 1800s. The French word was an adjective that means “ingenuous,” or “showing innocent or childlike simplicity and candidness.” In English, ingenue became a noun. Both words derive from the same Latin root, ingenuus, which means “native” or “freeborn,” which carried the connotation of the noble, honest, and frank character ascribed to freeborn Romans. In English, disingenuous meaning “deceitful” is more frequently used than ingenuous.

The showbiz-specific ingenue is sometimes spelled with an acute accent as it would be in French: ingénue. It’s pronounced \AHN-juh-noo\.

Trend Watch tracks popular lookups to see what people are talking about. You can always see all Trend Watch articles here.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!