The Virile Virtuoso

Vir, in Latin, refers to a man and virilis to being manly or worthy of a man. This root later evolved into virile and virility in English, which has come to refer to ‘masculine characteristics’ such as strength and vigour (esp sexual) and is now also sometimes used in expressions such as a virile and healthy nation or virile leadership to mean energetic or potent.

Interestingly, we find वीर्  (and वीरयते which means to be powerful and valiant or to display heroism) in Sanskrit and Hindi as well, for example, in these lines from वीरों का कैसा हो बसंत by the famous Hindi poetess सुभद्रा कुमारी चौहान

हल्दीघाटी के शिला खंड
ऐ दुर्ग सिंहगढ़ के प्रचंड
राणा ताना का कर घमंड
दो जगा आज स्मृतियाँ ज्वलंत-
वीरों का कैसा हो बसंत

A related word is virtue (from Latin virtus: the qualities of an ‘ideal man’ such as courage and bravery)  which we now use to refer to morality and righteousness (as in, he led a virtuous life) or in the broader sense of ‘good quality, skill, or advantage’ (one of the many virtues of this location is its proximity to good schools). Similarly, someone who has secured admission into a college by virtue of being a sports gold medalist has secured admission ‘on the strength of’ being a gold medalist.

A woman with ‘masculine strength and spirit’ (especially a female warrior, similar to वीरांगना) was called virago. However, the word has also taken on a negative connotation of a violent, domineering or abusive woman.

Virtuoso is Italian for virtuous and is now used in the sense of master or masterly (as in, he is a virtuoso pianist or that was a virtuoso performance) and virtu, a related Italian word,  refers to a person’s expertise, especially in fine arts.

What made you look up the word/s in this post? Did you find the explanations here useful or interesting? Do share by leaving a reply below! Or learn more about the Word Origin Stories series.

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