June 02, 2012
- tableau (noun)
- What does it mean?
- : a depiction of a scene usually presented on a stage by silent and motionless costumed participants
- How do you use it?
- For our history project, we plan to stage a tableau of a battleground from the American Civil War.
- Are you a word wiz?
We hope you can stand still long enough to take today's quiz. From which of the following do you think we got our word "tableau"?You've got the picture if you chose B. The word "tableau" in the sense of a silently staged scene comes from the French phrase "tableau vivant," literally "living picture." That descriptive phrase was adopted into English in the early 1800s, and soon shortened to simply "tableau." (The plural of this English word is usually spelled "tableaux," but the alternate spelling "tableaus" is also used.) Although the term "tableau" came into English only about 200 years ago, such motionless performances have been known for centuries. Tableaux were used in ancient Greek theater as well as in religious services of the Middle Ages. The freezing of the actors onstage in a tableau, such as at the end of a scene, is a common theatrical device today.