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Difference Between Risky and Risqué

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The words ‘risky’ and ‘risqué’ have an interesting relationship. They have different meanings, but they have similar etymologies. In fact, it could be argued that they are different iterations of the same word.

Both words came from French, but from different forms of the same word. ‘Risky’ is the adjective form of ‘risk’ and that comes from the French noun ‘risque’ without the diacritic, which means the same as the modern word. ‘Risqué’ comes from the French adjective ‘risqué’ with the diacritic, which was the adjective for ‘risque’. However, it later took on an additional meaning, which is where the English ‘risqué’ came from. Both of those words stem from the Old Italian word ‘risco’, also meaning ‘risk’, which later became the Modern Italian ‘rischio’. That is as far back as it can be traces, as it is not certain where ‘risco’ came from.

A risk is a possible negative outcome, such as a danger or a chance of loss. It can also mean the odds that a given situation will result in such a loss, especially in phrases such as ‘reduce the risk’, since that is referring to the chance instead of the danger itself.

The word ‘risky’ is the adjective of ‘risk’. It typically means that something is more likely than not to result in some sort of loss. The word ‘dangerous’ is a good synonym, though ‘risky’ is much more mild, as ‘dangerous’ implies that the threat is very close and there is still some leeway with a risky situation.

The word ‘risqué’, on the other hand, is an adjective that means that a thing is sexual and possibly inappropriate. This ranges from something mildly flirty to something that completely lacks manners. Overall, the word is fairly negative. The meaning seems to have arisen first in the French language, with the word getting borrowed into English specifically for this purpose. This seems most likely, as ‘risqué’ still has the original meaning of ‘risky’ in French.

The little dash over the e in ‘risqué’ indicates that the word should end in an –ay sound. However, some English speakers, especially in US English and in text communication, will spell it with a regular e instead of an é. This is mainly due to practical reasons: the English alphabet does not have the é already in it, so English keyboards do not have the é. English does not have markers that distinguish between vowel sounds, even when the sounds are different. This is one of the more annoying parts of the language, especially for learners, since there are around 20 vowel sounds depending on dialect and there are only five or six letters to represent them with.

In addition to that, it is also not always practical to copy and paste the é or to type in the Unicode that produces it. Because of that, the word is pronounced the same in English whether it is spelled ‘risque’ or ‘risqué’. That does not hold true in French: ‘risque’ is pronounced the same as the word ‘risk’ and ‘risqué’ is pronounced similar to the English word.

In speech, the two words are fairly easy to distinguish. As mentioned above, ‘risqué’ ends in an –ay sound and rhymes with ‘say’ or ‘okay’. ‘Risky’, on the other hand, ends in a long e sound and rhymes with the word ‘key’ or ‘see’.

In summary, ‘risky’ is the adjective form of ‘risk’ and means that a situation has a chance of a losing outcome. ‘Risqué’ means that something is suggestive of sexuality, ranging from mild to outright. The two words have a similar origin, but they are not very related other than that.


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