Printable Version
Pronunciation: kay-pêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Usually pluralized, capers) The flower bud of a bush (Capparis spinosa) that grows abundantly in southern Europe. It is used as a condiment. 2. A dashing leap or playful skipping movement. 3. A frivolous or illegal escapade.

Notes: Today we're having a two-for-one sale—no extra charge! Definitions 2. and 3. are unrelated to the definition 1; they are words coincidentally spelled and pronounced the same. Caperer is a rarely used personal noun and capering is the action noun and adjective. Caper may be used 'as is' as a verb, e.g. 'to caper around the room'.

In Play: 'Cutting a caper' refers to adding a hop or skip to your step: "After hearing he was getting a raise, Gildersleeve couldn't resist the temptation to cut a little caper as he walked down the hall on his way back to his office." This word is often a euphemism for a criminal escapade: "Robin Banks's latest caper involves a rich Aunt and a rubber zombie mask."

Word History: The sense of the first word, capers, is a reduction from Latin capparis, borrowed from Greek kapparis, of unknown origin. The second word is a clipping of Italian capriole "playful leap", inherited from Latin capreolus "baby goat", the diminutive of caper "goat". Latin inherited this word from PIE kapro- "goat". Kapro- is also the source of Welsh gafr "buck", Greek kapros "boar", and Old English hæfr (today's heifer "young cow"). Capriole was remodeled into cabriolet, a 19th century horse-drawn carriage known for its jiggledy rides. This word was clipped to just cab. (Jennifer Baldwin may now take a bow for her first caper at alphaDictionary: suggesting today's two identically spelled Good Words.)

Dr. Goodword,

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