Away With Words readers, along with people who reach my telephone voicemail, know that every Monday I feature a word of the week. I recently became acquainted with a French-language version of this service. On his Another American in France blog, WCS posts a new word every Wednesday (in English, heureusement, and charmingly illustrated). WCS has lived in the Loire Valley since 2003 and says he learns much of his vocabulary from French television. Here's what he learned about péplum:
A quick browse through our French tv guide in any given week will point up many films referred to as péplums. These are movies like Gladiator, Ben Hur, Spartacus, King of Kings, or one of the many Cleopatra films. What do they have in common? They are all epic stories set in antiquity, usually Greek or Roman, and often in biblical times.
The word péplum, in fact, originates from the greek peplon and the latin peplum, meaning tunic. It's oldest meaning is for a woman's sleeveless garment, attached at the shoulder. Think "toga."
These days, péplum is the French word for a style of epic movie set in ancient Greek or Roman times. Let the chariot races begin!