louche

Louche. I can’t recall the first time I encountered this word, but I immediately fell in love with it. I’d no idea what the definition of louche was, but I knew exactly what it meant.

Checking a dictionary simply confirmed it.

Louche, adjective:
1) of questionable taste or morality; decadent
2) not reputable or decent; shady, dubious, seedy

What else could it possibly mean? I was attracted to the word partly by the way it comes out of your mouth. Loosh. You have to make a sort of kissy-face to say it.

It’s French, of course. How could it not be? From the Old French term lousche or lois, which apparently meant ‘cross-eyed’ or ‘squint-eyed.’ That came from the Latin lusca, which is the feminine form of luscus which meant ‘one-eyed.’

You can almost see it, can’t you. A man peering squint-eyed through the half-gloom of evening at a woman wearing a red smear of lipstick. A louche scenario.

But louche isn’t just an adjective; it’s also a noun and a verb. As a noun it describes the cloudiness that comes from a suspension of fine particles in a liquid. As a verb it describes the act of suspending those particles. That sounds so very scientific, but it can be an almost erotic act of decadence.

When preparing absinthe to drink, one first pours the liquor into a glass. A slotted spoon is laid across the rim of the glass. A cube of sugar is placed on the spoon. Ice-cold water is then very slowly dripped over the sugar, dissolving it into the absinthe. The absinthe itself is highly alcoholic — forty-five to eighty percent alcohol combined with anise, fennel, and other medicinal herbs. The high alcohol content keeps the herbal oils in suspension. The higher the alcohol content, the more oils the absinthe can hold. The introduction of cold sugar-water causes the herbal oils in the absinthe to become cloudy, creating a sort of milky opalescence and releasing the aromas and scents of the herbs. The cloudiness is called the louche.

Decadent. Of questionable taste or morality. Disreputable. Shady. Louche.

Which explains why, when I was recently walking down 5th Street as evening approached and shadows began to obscure and conceal parts of the world, I passed a bright red doorway glancing at me sideways out of the darkness, the first word that came to my mind was louche.red door

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