So… What’s a Giclée?*

You’ve been talked into going to an art show… or a gallery opening… or your snooty neighbor’s house for “drinks.” A word that might come up is giclée.

Giclée? Huh?

Giclée (sometimes spelled gyclée) is not recognized in many dictionaries. When you do find it, you also uncover some arguments among language “experts.” They seem to agree that its origins are French – and that it can be loosely translated into something that has to do with spurting or spraying. But is it a noun? An infinitive? A past participle?

The backstory:

In the 1980s, inkjet printing became sophisticated enough that reproductions could be produced automatically that had the appearance, to the untrained eye, of having been painted by hand.

Some of these were sold as originals. This caused a backlash against the technology, which was unfortunate because the technology itself was very good. To combat the bad reputation that inkjet printing was getting, an American printer by name of Jack Duganne decided to call them giclées. He reasoned that by attaching an expensive-sounding name to them, they could command the high prices he was hoping to get.

The bottom line: Giclées are better and more valuable than posters. But they are still mass-produced prints. As sophisticated productions, they merit a higher price than posters. But they should not be confused with limited edition art works or originals.

You got that? Yes?

* Adapted from my book How to Speak Intelligently About Everything That Matters. Like all of my books, it is available at