I recently had a French mystery explained for me, the difference between neuf and nouveau, both of which mean “new.” I’ve been reading Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, where all was explained. Apparently, in the 18th century, only the very wealthiest people, like the king and queen, could afford completely new clothes. Everyone else wore hand-me-downs. The queen gave her old gowns to her ladies-in-waiting, they gave their gowns to their servants, and the servants sold their old gowns in the market. The queen’s new gown was neuf , but once she passed it on, it was nouveau to the lady-in-waiting, new to her, but not brand-spanking new, if you see what I mean. It’s also where we get the words novel and novelty, something that’s new to us, but not objectifiably new. Mystery solved. It all makes so much sense. These days, the distinction is not observed: nouveau is far more frequently used than neuf.