Did You Know?
Nowadays, no one refers to a "polite" looking glass or houses "polite" and in good repair, but polite (or polit or polyt, as it was spelled in Middle English) originally meant simply "polished" or "clean." By the early 1600s, polite was being used of polished and refined people, and politeness had been penned to name the shining quality of such people. Politesse (a French borrowing) debuted in the late 17th century. All three words stem from Latin polire, which means "to polish" (and which is, by way of the Anglo-French stem poliss-, an ancestor of the English polish). Today we tend to use politeness for everyday good manners and reserve politesse for more formal courtesies.
"The politesse of good society and the politesse of the dueling ground were, as we shall see, cut out of the same cloth." — Robert A. Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, 1993
"Now it's true that no one should expect an American football coach to possess the politesse of a career diplomat. But c'mon. There is a place and time for righteous indignation, especially if you're, say, Bill Belichick and you've just lost the Super Bowl." — Lincoln Millstein, The New Haven (Connecticut) Register, 19 Oct. 2019
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