The Panache of The Great British Baking Show


I’ve got a sweet tooth for The Great British Baking Show.
You might even say, I get a “sugar high” from watching it.

For all of its typical British stuffiness, and despite its meandering pace, I’m hooked on its simple elegance and English baking traditions. While enjoying a rerun of season three, a new word popped up—like yeast bread in the oven.
I just had to grab a slice for this week’s “A Good Word is Hard to Find.”

The word came about when delightfully spry and sassy Mary Berry, a judge and hostess of The Great British Baking Show, described the way that the finalists should present their doughy creations.

“They must do it with panache,” she said.

Mary Berry

(Courtesy this website)

I whipped through three dictionaries before I found one with the definition for “panache.” From the 2nd College Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary, here it is, in paraphrased form:

Panache is derived from the Latin “pinna,” meaning “feather.” It is a noun that means “a bunch of feathers,” or, “a plume on a helmet” (p. 896).

It’s quite doubtful that Mary wanted feathers on her Swedish Princess Cake or a helmet adorning her poppy seed biscuits. So, I looked for another meaning, and came up with this second entry for the word “panache” from the same dictionary: “dash, swagger, or verve” (p. 896).
This definition seemed more plausible.

Of course, following the path of one word often leads to other winding rabbit trails, which is why I looked up the terms, “dash, swagger, and verve.”

DASH…The word “dash” is most often used to describe smashing things, or running fast. Home chefs on The Great British Baking Show do neither. Thankfully.

Thus, I went to the web, where Cambridge Dictionaries Online offered up what they called an “old-fashioned” meaning, not in use anymore:
As a noun, “dash” refers to “style and confidence.”

SWAGGER…I liked best this definition of “swagger” in my print copy of Noah Webster 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language:
Webster says it’s an intransitive verb, meaning (among other things), “to be tumultuously proud.”

VERVE…Finally, from The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, “verve” is a French-derived noun meaning, “poetical or artistic rapture or enthusiasm; great spirit; energy; rapture; enthusiasm” (p. 934).

Pack it all together, and Mary most likely meant something like this:

“They must do it with panache. That means they must do it with style and confidence, poetical or artistic rapture and enthusiasm, and with tumultuous pride.”

That’s a mouthful.

Isn’t it amazing how one word can carry the weight of so much meaning? Just like a gingerbread house three stories high, the word “panache” opens multiple meanings on various levels.

Now, if someone can tell me how to pronounce it properly, I’ll add it to my daily vocabulary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

About Kira Marie McCullough

An Author for the Young at Heart