Adjective > Rococo

Adjective – Rococo

Above is a room in a German palace. It’s decorated in the rococo style: a kind of extremely detailed, highly ornamented way of designing furniture, rooms, ceilings, and entire buildings that was popular in Europe in the 1700s.

If you look closely at a rococo room like the one pictured above, you might see that some of the decor is made from little pieces of shells or pebbles. The word “rococo” might trace all the way back to the same Latin root that gave us “rock.”

What we know for sure is that in French, where rocaille means “shell work or pebble work,” people added a funny twist to create the word rococo, which they used to label the style of art and architecture that we see above. But this was in about 1830, when that style had all gone out of fashion already and seemed tacky rather than tasteful. And so rococo in French also means “old-fashioned, out of style.”

When we took rococo into English, we dropped the “old-fashioned” meaning.

In English, we use “rococo” specifically to mean “related to that elaborate style that was popular in Europe in the 1700s.”

And we use it more generally to mean “extremely showy and detailed, sometimes in a way that’s tasteless or way overdone.”

Either “ruh KO KO” or “ro KO KO.”

Part of speech:
Adjective: “a rococo story,” “their flourishes are rococo.”

Other forms:
The noun is “rocococity,” pronounced “ruh ko KOSS uh dee.”
And an alternate adjective is “rococoesque:” “ruh KO ko ESK.”

How to use it:
This word often has a slightly negative tone. To call something rococo is to suggest that it’s so complex and so finely decorated that it’s just ridiculous.

Talk about rococo art, furniture, rooms, and buildings; rococo clothes, accessories, tattoos, makeup, and hairstyles; rococo music, literature, and speech, etc.

Or, talk in general about something’s (or someone’s) rococo style, tone, mood, decadence, intricacy, etc.

Or get more specific: rococo touches, details, and flourishes.

“Nor was French art limited to rococo frippery and blushing pink ladies. It also embodied an internal critique of the old regime. Along with the curves, elegance and flowery garden fetes there were works of great visual austerity and moral severity.”
— Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, 2 June 2017

“Techies who live on Soylent and attention-deficit drugs all day and then spend their wealth on rococo meals costing hundreds of dollars are living very weird, insular lives.”
— Daniel Duane, New York Times, 6 August 2016

“Jim’s plan for surviving the apocalypse seems somewhat rococo to me. It’s involved. Pick three bug-out locations in different directions from your residences, all of them under 200 miles from your home so you can get there without a full tank of gas in your car. You should also plan three routes to each of your three locations. So that’s nine routes in all.”
— Stephen Marche, The Guardian, 2 August 2017