mas·cot (măskŏt′, -kət)
A person, animal, or object supposed to bring good luck or used as the symbol of an organization, such as a sports team.
[French mascotte, sorcerer's charm, mascot, from Provençal mascoto, sorcery, fetish, from masco, witch; akin to Latin masca, specter, witch, of unknown origin.]
Word History: Mascot came into English as a borrowing of the French word mascotte, meaning "mascot, charm." The English word is first recorded in 1881, shortly after the French word (itself first recorded in 1867) was popularized by the comic opera La Mascotte by the French composer Edmond Audran (1841-1901), first performed in 1880. The opera tells the story of a maid named Bettina who brings good luck and success to those around her. If she loses her virginity, however, her powers will disappear, and the plot revolves around the attempts of a noble and a successful farmer to prevent the loss of her powers after she falls in love with a shepherd. The French word mascotte, used in this opera to designate Bettina as a person who brings luck, comes from the Provençal word mascoto, "piece of witchcraft, charm, amulet," a diminutive of masco, "witch." Provençal masco is itself undoubtedly related to the Latin word masca, "specter," and these two words are further related to a group of terms in the Romance languages that have to do with the color black—a reflection of the intimate association between sorcery and the color black in popular belief. These terms include Old French mascurer, "to daub, blacken" and Catalan mascara, "soot, smut." The group also includes the Spanish word máscara and the Italian word maschera, both meaning "mask" (probably originally referring to a face daubed with pigment). These two words are the probable sources of the English word mascara. (The meaning of the Spanish and Italian words, however, may have been influenced by the Arabic term masḫara, "object of derision, masquerade.") Italian maschera is also the source of the French word masque, "mask," which is in turn the source of the English word mask. Although the ultimate source of all these Romance words relating to the notions of "witch" and "black," remains unknown, they may have originated among the languages that were spoken in Western Europe in pre-Roman times and later replaced by Latin.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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