After taking a multi-year hiatus, I thought I would gen back up my little blog concerning uncommon words. Today’s entry into the “There’s a Word for That?” category begins with the letter “A” and is the first in an alphabetical sequence that will eventually stretch out to “Z.”
Today’s word is one that we are all familiar with but has a distinct, although related, meaning to its more common usage. The word is accolade, and in our uncommon meaning is defined as a ceremonial greeting consisting of an embrace and a kiss on both cheeks. This formal type of greeting is still in use in many cultures and not an unusual site when watching our president meet other heads of state.
In more common usage, accolade is an expression of approval or praise, and therefore it’s easy to see that the two meanings are related. During WWI, President Wilson instituted a presidential certificate honoring those service men and women who died or were wounded in battle, calling the certificate an Accolade. The certificate was used again during WWII and the Korean War and was later extended to non-military civilians killed or injured in service associated with the military. Receipt of an Accolade is high praise, indeed.
Originally, the term applied to the service of conferring a knighthood, consisting of an embrace and slight blow to each shoulder with the flat edge of a sword. One can easily see the direct link from this earliest usage to today’s embrace, replacing the sword blow with a more benign kiss to each cheek.
In some places in the world, the tradition of a two-cheek kiss has been modified. In France today, it’s generally still a two-cheek affair, but if you really want to show your affection, it can be repeated, thereby extending the accolade to a four-cheek engagement. In Belgium, for reasons unknown, it’s a three-cheek kiss. In our post-PC world of sexual hypertension, the embrace is often omitted and only the kisses are used. Even the kisses themselves are often seen as not making contact; a sort of air kiss. Or just dispense with the kiss itself and make a slight movement to each cheek while repeating the words “kiss-kiss.” To those whose concern is over the health aspects of an accolade, you will be relieved to know that the International Forum on Home Hygiene concluded that cheek kissing spreads less germs that a simple handshake. Yes, someone actually studied this…I don’t make this stuff up. And for those who pay close attention to such matters, Judith Martin, otherwise known as Miss Manners, says that you should always aim for the right cheek first. In our rush-rush world, sometimes the two-cheek kiss is substituted for a more efficient one-cheek execution; sort of a kiss-off to the receiver. You might even see the Western hand-shake combined with the two-cheek kiss; often even accompanied by a sort-of shoulder bump. This type of greeting would seem to cover all the bases.
So, the next time you see our president on the receiving end of a hug and two wet slobbers to each cheek, you will know that he received an accolade, even if the media doesn’t shower him with accolades for his political performance.