Two Words.

I’m reading On Beauty, by the wonderful Zadie Smith — I get to read her books after my wife finishes them — and I’m struck, as always, by her love of words, everyday, slang, dialect, recondite, whatever, she loves them all. I learned one of the latter variety in this passage:

The fate of the young man in his earphones, who faced a jail cell that very night, did not seem such a world away from his own predicament: an anniversary party full of academics.

Walking up Redwood Avenue with its tunnel of cernuous willows, Levi found he had lost the will even to nod his head, usually an involuntary habit with him when music was playing.

Cernuous! I knew I liked it even before I knew what it meant, which I learned the modern way, online, via the Merriam-Webster definition: “inclining or nodding : pendulous, drooping” (etymology: “Latin cernuus with the face turned toward the earth; akin to Latin cerebrum brain”). Note its placement between the preceding “academics” and the following “nod his head”; what fun!

But before I looked it up the modern way, I tried the old-fashioned way, with a physical dictionary, to wit the Concise Oxford (see this post); it wasn’t there, but right after its hypothetical location I found:

ceroc /sɪˈrɒk/ ► n. a type of modern dance having elements of rock and roll, jive, and salsa.
ORIGIN 1990s: invented word, apparently coined in English from Fr. ce (as in c’est ‘this is’) + roc ‘rock’.

An interesting etymology, and I was taken aback to discover a word for a cultural phenomenon about whose existence I had no clue, though it’s apparently been around for at least two decades. Maybe a UK thing?


  1. I think it is bigger in Europe, yes. I don’t hear as much about it as I used to. The fringes of me circle that might have taken interest in ceroc a few years ago now seem more interested in zouk and kizomba.

    I think I remember hearing that the scene struggled a bit with somebody asserting trademarks on “ceroc”, and everybody else had to start calling it “modern jive”.

  2. Ah, well, at least I know about zouk.

  3. I also like the idea of a man in his earphones, an exact observation expressed in unusual words; usually it is a voice or a sound that it is in your earphones..

  4. The whole story of ceroc. It was a version of the jive, simplified, named (indeed based on c’est le roc) and trademarked by one particular person.

  5. Catholics old enough to have sung hymns in Latin will be familiar with the word cernuus since it occurs in a very commonly sung hymn, the Tantum ergo.

  6. What a marvelous, mellifluous post!

  7. Terrific and interesting post and just a reminder of why I’ve loved reading your blog for the past decade (-plus?)…


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