Word Origin & History
1798, from Fr. silhouette, in allusion to Étienne de Silhouette (1709-67), Fr. minister of finance in 1759. Usually said to be so called because it was an inexpensive way of making a likeness of someone, a derisive reference to Silhouette's petty economies to finance the Seven Years' War, which
were unpopular among the nobility. But other theories are that it refers to his brief tenure in office, or the story that he decorated his chateau with such portraits. The verb is recorded from 1876. The family name is a Frenchified form of a Basque surname; Arnaud de Silhouette, the finance minister's father, was from Biarritz in the French Basque country; the southern Basque form of the name would be Zuloeta or Zulueta, which contains the suffix -eta "abundance of" and zulo "hole" (possibly here meaning "cave").