Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Girandole


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is girandole. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Girandole can refer to an ornamental branched candlestick, as well as to a pendant earring usually with three ornaments hanging from a central piece. In its earliest uses, girandole referred to a radiating and showy composition, such as a cluster of skyrockets fired together for a fireworks display, or to a fountain issuing a rising column of spreading water.

// The newlyweds found the most gorgeous girandole at an antique sale and couldn’t wait to put it in their living room.

// She admired the girandoles and topknots of the characters in her favorite period piece.

// Seeing girandoles light up the night sky was his favorite part of the holidays.

GIRANDOLE in Context

“A girandole is no newcomer to the jewellery scene: it became fashionable in the 18th century—think rose-cut diamond drops twinkling in a candle-lit room. Sticklers for accuracy will want a central design motif, often a bow or similar, with three pear-shaped stones suspended underneath. David Morris, Gucci and Graff have some great modern-day versions. But the most covetable of all? Rare originals that occasionally come up for auction, having survived centuries without being separated.” — Jessica Diamond, The Times (London), 28 Nov. 2022

Did You Know?

The word girandole can refer to several different things, all of them designed to provoke oohs and aahs. The earliest uses of girandole in English, in the 17th century, referred to a kind of firework, or to something with a radiating pattern like that of a firework, such as a fountain. Such a pattern is reflected in the word’s etymology: girandole can be traced back by way of French and Italian to the Latin word gyrus, meaning “gyre” or “a circular or spiral motion or form.” By the 18th century, girandole was being used for a branched candlestick, perhaps due to its resemblance to the firework. The word’s use for a kind of earring was lit during the 19th century. While pinwheel and Catherine wheel are more often called upon for firework duty today, we note that there’s nothing stopping you from applying the elegant girandole to the impressive displays that light up festive night skies.

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