FROM time to time, I like to indulge sales staff and let them do their thing, even though the chances of me saying “yes” is near zero. I do this mostly because I enjoy observing how they approach me, frame their sales pitch, and hold my attention, particularly if they happen to be working with a product that catches my fancy. Nothing is more pleasurable than coming face to face with fine hospitality, even if it’s disguised as a sales pitch. Salesmanship, after all, like any other skill, requires practice, experience and daring—a department which isn’t exactly my forte.
The most recent sales staff who caught my attention—so well that I even offered my hand to her—was a young lady called Debby, if I remember correctly. I met her at Wisma Atria’s The Body Shop a few weeks ago in one of my major replenishment exercises to stock up on bath and body supplies. It was meant to be an in-and-out affair, but once I had checked out with my bag full of shopping, Debby did a little magic trick. She offered me two samples of a moisture-boosting lotion for the face, the neck, and the dare-cor-lette.
“Sorry, what was that?” I asked, my ears were pricked. What does she know that I don’t?
Presently, Debby directs me to the shelf, excited that my curiosity was piqued, and shows me the product: “See this cream here? You can use it on the face, the neck and the dare-cor-lette area.” (Ooh, she’s just toggled from noun to adjective!). Now, did she mean this other word, this very Marie Antoinette word:
décolletage |deɪˌkɑləˈtɑʒ, dɛˌkɑləˈtɑʒ| (n)
• a low neckline on a woman’s dress or top.
• a woman’s cleavage as revealed by a low neckline.
On closer inspection of the label, I see it:
décolleté |deɪˌkɑləˈteɪ| (adj)
• (adj) (of a woman’s dress or top) having a low neckline.
• (n) a low neckline on a woman’s dress or top.
“Oh,” I said. “I’ve never seen this word before.” And then I articulated it out loud in my broken French: day-kor-LAY-tay. (The correct articulation in French should be an approximation of day-KALL-tay).
This set off an excited conversation about how everyone at The Body Shop says it, how the trainers train the sales staff to say it. Then, I glided into the whole dare-cor-lette experience, except that instead of having the whole serum experience there, I offered Debby my left hand, where she dabbed a drop of magic oil right on the spot between my index and thumb knuckles before patting on it gingerly.
I guess dare-cor-lette it will forever be, only that the word seems so obscure it could well muddle a sales pitch. On the other hand, it could be rather evocative, conjuring notes of sophistication. What’s with these French words?
Well, I’m sure every new user of that sleeping cream would now have a new sexy word in their vocabulary. I feel décolletage is the better word though. Doesn’t “a woman’s cleavage as revealed by a low neckline” feel more snug and warm and right compared to “a low neckline on a woman’s dress or top”?
I should call The Body Shop to offer my consulting services. Meanwhile, I have a little message for Debby. The pronunciation comes two ways, American or British, take your pick:
And to appreciate the meaning of the word, here’s its origin:
Late 19th century: French, from décolleter (expose the neck), from dé- (expressing removal) + collet ‘collar of a dress.’
I invite you to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any word ideas you’d like to share.