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One more song — please!

By Debra Dobbins

In a summer replete with sweet music all over the valley, “encore” seems an appropriate word to investigate.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word came into English around 1712 from French. It meant “still, yet, again.” The dictionary also notes that neither the French encore nor its Italian counterpart (ancora) was actually used in the sense that English-speakers most often use it — asking for one more song.  (Alessandra Weber Rossi, a vivacious, young Italian friend, says the Italians use bis for such a request at concerts.)

The Online Etymology Dictionary also provides an example of early usage:

Whenever any Gentlemen are particularly pleased with a Song, at their crying out Encore ... the Performer is so obliging as to sing it over again. [Steele, "Spectator" No. 314, 1712].

Who was Steele and what was The Spectator? Richard Steele founded The Spectator along with Joseph Addison in 1711. The daily publication’s fictional narrator, according to Wikipedia, was none other than Mr. Spectator. Taciturn in public but capable of turning out prodigious prose, he made observations on “the habits, foibles, and social faux pas of his fellow citizens,” according to Wikipedia.

He also had a number of close friends. “This forms a cast of secondary characters which The Spectator can draw on in its stories and examples of social conduct,” again according to Wikipedia. “In order to foster an inclusive ethos, they are drawn from many different walks of life.”

The Spectator was widely read across London. Although it was only published daily from 1711 to 1712, Wikipedia notes, it was later compiled into seven volumes. And in that way, it enjoyed somewhat of an “encore.”

The Spectator of June 7, 1711

Sir Richard Steele by Jonathon Richardson
Photographs courtesy of Wikipedia



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