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Smuvelious (definition)

Tuesday 14th October 2008

smuvelious (adj.)
An invented form based on Italian smuovere (pron: zmu'overe) = move, shift (non smuovere le acque = don't rock the boat)
Originally smuverious - the later form due to r/l alternation (cf. grammar / glamour, peregrine / pilgrim etc.)
Although the earliest surviving citations, surprisingly, are from the early 21st century, Victorian scholars allude to its appearance from ca. 1610, e.g. in a fragment of a lost poem by Nicholas Bretton (ca. 1545 - ca. 1626):

..... the whole worlde was astir.
And thus walked I out
and all the smuverious day
did .....

The original sense was thus perhaps "full of movement, activity". But the word seems to have been little used until the late 18th century, when it was adopted as a fashionable term of approval by the Cockney aristocracy, who perceived an etymologically unmotivated but phonetically plausible similarity with 'smoov' (= smooth - Cockney fronting of interdental fricative). At first it was used particularly to refer to a smooth, swift, masterly tennis stroke, e.g. "Smuvelious! Nice one, guv!" - overheard by Samuel Johnson as his carriage passed a tennis match being played on the frozen Thames on 27th February 1783, and recorded in his journal entry for that day ("I must begin revising my dictionary forthwith!") but gradually its scope extended and it became used to express approval or admiration generally, especially with a hint of auspiciousness, propitiousness, prospect of success.

We are grateful to a harmless drudge in Łeba for this very clear and full definition and derivation.