- A sudden, often unexpected occurrence that happens without any obvious logic
- An inexplicable, abrupt change or shift, especially in temperament; also, the disposition to make such a shift
- A dynamic, freeform piece of music or art
Picture a lovely day in your favorite park. You stroll among the meadows and trees, appreciating the warmth of the sun and a clear blue sky. Suddenly, a thick bank of gray, menacing clouds rolls in. The temperature drops, and in a split second you're being pelted with rain drops! You race for shelter, cursing this caprice of the weather.
A sudden shift like the one we've just imagined is a simple example of the word caprice. Caprice is used to describe an event that happens suddenly and unexpectedly - it's something you'd never see coming. Usually, the event in question is understood to be a change from conditions that existed just a moment ago, a dramatic swing that can be wildly different from what was just being experienced. However, a caprice can also describe an isolated, surprising action that seems to pop up out of nowhere, such as a tree that, for no apparent reason, suddenly falls over. This last example highlights the fact that the use of caprice generally implies that the action, condition, or change in question seems to be unmotivated or illogical. A caprice is unexpected because it cannot be readily explained, perhaps even seeming to be random.
Specifically, caprice is often used to describe an act of whimsy or a sudden change in temperament. Decisions made on a whim, impulsive choices, and sudden mood swings or changes in opinion are all examples of caprices. The connotation of this usage depends on the context. A person or object who exhibits a caprice might be fickle or indecisive (such as a moody girlfriend), whimsical and slightly mysterious (like the Cheshire Cat), or even dangerously volatile (like a sudden storm brewing). Whatever the specific connotation, however, those who are witness to a caprice are usually left completely flummoxed.
Finally, in the art world, caprice is sometimes used as a synonym for the word capriccio. This terms describes a short, vivacious piece of music or other art that incorporates many shifts in style and changes in viewpoint. An artistic caprice is generally freeform, not bound to any specific path or method.
Example: The young secretary suffered every caprice of his moody boss.
Example: Due to a caprice in the road's slope, Callie found herself pedaling her bicycle much harder than she would have expected.
There is some uncertainty about the oldest roots of caprice. The word most likely stems from the Italian term capriccio, which literally means "an act of shivering." This could refer to sudden, violent movements. One possible origin could be the Latin word for an untamed goat, capreolus - a term which conjures images of a frolicking creature unpredictable in action and uncontrolled by outside forces. Another possibility emphasizes the roots "capo" (meaning "head") and "riccio" (meaning "frizzly" or "coiled"). This indicates the shivering of a person whose hair is standing on end in terror. Whatever the case, the term would eventually evolve into the French cognate caprice (meaning "fancy" or "whim"), and by the late seventeenth century it was being used in English to describe an unpredictable choice or change in mood.
One of the most commonly used derivatives of caprice is capricious, an adjective used to characterize someone or something as whimsical or fickle.
Capriciousness is a noun that describes the condition of being apt to impulsive changes. Finally, capriciously is an adverb that classifies a verb as being the result of a sudden and unexpected shift.
Example: Tess never knew whether her capricious cat would welcome being petted or walk away from her disdainfully.
Example: The capriciousness of middle-school cliques tends to leave many tweens in a state of confusion.
Example: Juan capriciously went for a jog around the neighborhood wearing nothing but his underpants.
From Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray:
The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.
Here, Wilde uses the term caprice to make light of the fact that people often overestimate the longevity of their feelings.
From Herman Melville's Moby-Dick:
For however eagerly and impetuously the savage crew had hailed the announcement of his quest; yet all sailors of all sorts are more or less capricious and unreliable—they live in the varying outer weather, and they inhale its fickleness—and when retained for any object remote and blank in the pursuit, however promissory of life and passion in the end, it is above all things requisite that temporary interests and employments should intervene and hold them healthily suspended for the final dash.
Here, Melville uses capricious to show that the minds of sailors are easily changed. Although they may be pumped for a cause one minute, they will inevitably turn their attentions to something more interesting - a stark contrast to the monomaniac Captain Ahab.
- The changes of a caprice can easily disturb the peace.
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of caprice. Did you use caprice in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.