Have you ever met someone who behaved so bizarrely that you walked away bewildered and befuddled?Tim Bowen explains this mysterious word of the week.

The Macmillan Dictionary of English for Advanced Learners defines bizarre as ‘strange and difficult to explain’ and gives ‘bizarre behaviour’ and ‘a really bizarre character’. It would be fair to say that bizarre is, in itself, a rather bizarre-looking word. You would be hard pressed to find any other English words ending in –arre and very few rhyme with it.

The origins of the word may be equally difficult to explain. It is generally accepted that the word came into English from its direct French equivalent  but there is some disagreement as to how it came to the French language. One theory is that it came to French from Spanish, where the word bizarre means ‘gallant’ and has no connection with oddness or strangeness. An appealing theory is that Spanish in turn borrowed the word from the Basque language, where bizarre means ‘a beard’, the implication being that men with beards were seen as gallant or brave. Bizarre indeed.