March 6, 2007


arch: adj. [arch]
1. Chief; eminent; greatest; principal.
"The most arch act of piteous massacre." Shakespeare
2. [This sense arises from the common use of arch in sense 1. in archrogue,archwag, archknave, etc.] Cunning or sly; now usually sportively, mischievous; roguish; as an arch look, arch word, arch lad.

ARCH: slyly or mockingly mischievous--the word is applied chiefly to looks or expression, esp. of women or children
--Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language Second Ed., 1955 [aka Webster 2]

arch: adj. self-consciously or affectedly playful or teasing.
archly, adv. archness n.
[arch-, originally in arch rogue etc.]
Ety: Ultimately from the Latin arcus arc.

--The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English
, 1995.

THE WORD IN USE (as adv.):
From "The Courtship of Miles Standish," iii,
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,

Archly the maiden smiled, and, with eyes overrunning with laughter,
Said, in a tremulous voice, 'Why don't you speak for yourself, John?

--The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Second Edition, 1955.

Webster 2 (1955), notes that arch is applied chiefly to looks or expression, esp. of women or children." In 2007 the word applies equally to women and men, children and adults, as well as archwise* tertium quids.

archwise: a nonce
word° invented by B'n'J'n, meaning able to understand and express an arch attitude; hip; savvy; "in the groove"

°nonce word = a word (as ringday in "four girls I know have become engaged today: this must be ringday") coined and used apparently to suit one particular occasion sometimes independently by different writers or speakers but not adopted into use generally.--Webster 3.

In the passage from "The Courtship of Miles Standish," the Maiden Priscilla, who has eyes for the clueless John Arden standing directly in front of her, has just listened (with bemused endurance) to him catalog reasons why she should attend more to his good friend, the dashing Captain Miles Standish. Realizing that John needs help in understanding where her affections lie, Priscilla finally puts to him archly [read flirtatiously*] her famous question.

*Yes, the Puritans were known to flirt.

I realized, just yesterday, that, with an arch attitude, comes an arch look
to the face, and with an arch look to the face often comes an arched eyebrow--which, it strikes me now, is a most apt, emblematic image to use in completing our discussion of arch in its mischievous sense.

BTW, I tried arching each of my eyebrows without bringing the other into play, but I couldn't do it. How about you, dear reader? Can you arch one eyebrow without any squinting or bending on the other side?



  1. As your daughter, I happen to know this is one of your favorite words.

  2. D'orge,
    Right! In the mischievous sense, arch has been a favorite of mine for years.
    ¶ Just yesterday I realized that with an arch attitude comes an arch look on one's face, and with that often comes the arch of a raised eyebrow: "a curve with the ends down and the middle up" (AHD). I didn't think to add that wonderfully apposite definition with its perfectly apt semiotic image to the blog post when I first wrote it. I'll have to add it.
    ¶I tried to arch each of my eyebrows without bringing the other into play but couldn't do it. How about you? Can you arch one without the other?