Ensemble. Say it a few times — ahhn-sahhhm-bull. It glides over the tongue like top-shelf liquor, strong and smooth, no unpleasant edges. It’s the pleasant gentleman in the boisterous brew pub of our language, wearing the phonics of its French roots like a tiara, free of the uncertainty that accompanies awkward imports like oeuvre or foie gras. Ahhn-sahhhm-bull. Its natural pacing gracefully slows a sentence to a more relaxed rate, momentarily taking the hurry out of the world. It’s one of those uncommon words that is often more beautiful than the thing it describes. (Though that’s certainly true of foie gras as well.)
Yet ensemble is much more than a pretty whisper in one’s ear. “Lovely ensemble” is both a nice thing to say and a nice way to say it. The recipient is elevated by the elegance of the tone, buoyed by the sophistication of the sonic. It is irreplaceable, because its so-called synonyms are in no way kindred spirits: Outfit? Strictly kid’s stuff. (Cate Blanchett wears an ensemble; Miley Cyrus wears an outfit.) Clothes? Please, clothes are something you buy at Sears. If what a person wears is worthy of comment, it’s worthy of a genuine compliment — call it an ensemble.