brevet

What’s one way to go up in the world? By brevet.

By what? Oh, didn’t you get the memo? Tsk. Don’t mispronounce it if you see it, and don’t misspell it if you hear it – darlings, that would simply be undone. And so would you. You no more say this word with a “silent t” than you do claret. There is a t in claret, and you declare it; so likewise here, you may want to spell it brevette, but you should drop the last te for the sake of brevet-ty. Sort of as was once done by some publications with cigaret.

There. You have your marching orders, in brief. The letters have dropped. Although, in fact, they were never there in the first place, those two French letters we would add as orthographic prophylaxis: te. The original French source is brevet, which they say just as you would expect the French to say it: /bʀɛ ve/. It comes from a diminutive form bref, ‘letter’ (as in a written document you send to someone). You could say it is a brief brief.

Very well, but what function does the brief brief serve? Tsk tsk. So many questions. Knowledge is its own reward. You have been elevated with this etymology and phonology. Why ask for more? Are you not riveted already? Do you not fear being reverted?

Very well. A brevet is an official letter (or, you know, note) conferring specific privileges; in its most common usage, it is a document giving a nominal rank to an officer without increasing his or her pay grade. It’s the military promotion equivalent of a morganatic marriage (where, sure, you can marry the king or queen, but you get no royal rank from it). You get the honour of officer but no more dough. It’s the opposite of the actor’s adage, “Don’t clap, just throw money.”

And it has a British pronunciation and an American one. The difference is the stress: Brits put it on the first syllable (as with claret); Americans put it on the second (as with Sucrets). Which makes it a particularly sneaky spelling-bee word.

And what do you get if you know how to spell it? Just that little bump in your intellectual stature that you get from knowing how to spell anything that not everyone knows. Knowledge is its own reward, right? Well, yeah, that and the social rank you can claim.

If and when you ever get to use it.

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