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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Imbroglio (n.) maintains three variations of definitions. The first is that it represents a confused heap or tangle. The second refers to a confused or difficult situation, predicament or mess, which is most commonly political or dramatic. [1] In this aspect of the definition, it can also mean something that is acutely painful or embarrassing as a misunderstanding, a violently confused or bitterly complicated altercation such as an embroilment, or even a scandal. [1] And the third represents ‘a passage, in which the vocal or instrumental parts are made to sing, or play, against each other, in such a manner as to produce the effect of apparent but really well-ordered confusion’ (Grove Dict. Music 1880). [1]

The term originates from 1750 from Italian imbroglio, which comes from imbrogliare, meaning “confuse, or tangle”. [2] The word imbrogliare stems from the combination of the assimilated form of –in representing “into, in, on or upon” and brogliare meaning “embroil”, which is from modern French brouiller meaning “confuse”. [2] Imbroglio and the word embroilment are hence more than simply synonyms. They are linked through their etymologies, as both words descend from the previously mentioned Middle French verb “embrouiller”. This term not only means a story that is difficult to follow, but also one with manipulation, covert motivations and most importantly, secrets.

With regard to the definition of imbroglio that is depicted with a state of confusion, the word involves a sliver of mischievousness and deceit. In a sense, there is a dark quality associated with the complicated aspect of the word, perhaps having to relate back to its stem. The word also characterizes the subject to have some sort of embarrassment occurring towards them.  When your wife and mistress both show up for your dinner date, the situation just manifested itself into an imbroglio. Hence, the term also implies a frantic and ridiculous display of inordinately obscure and comical activity, when it is used to describe more of a misunderstanding.

The political rendition of imbroglio proves to be the more commonly used sense of the term in modern day and has mostly negative connotations.  The use of imbroglio in this manner usually is in relation to unfortunate and difficult situations of conflict occurring in the world. The use of the word in the political sense parallels it to the word battle, due to its appearance in heated debates and outright fights.

A quote that characterizes the term quite aptly is ``Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive`` stated by Sir Walter Scott, in Canto VI, Stanza 17 in Marmion. [3]

[1] "imbroglio, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/91731?redirectedFrom=imbroglio (accessed November 17, 2012).
[2] "Online Etymology Dictionary." Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=imbroglio&allowed_in_frame=0 (accessed November 17, 2012).
[3] "Quote Details: Sir Walter Scott: Oh what a tangled... - The Quotations Page." Quotes and Famous Sayings - The Quotations Page. http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/27150.html (accessed November 17, 2012).

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