Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A saucy, coquettish, intriguing maidservant in comedies or comic opera.
  • n. An actress or a singer taking such a part.
  • n. A young woman regarded as flirtatious or frivolous.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A female servant or attendant, especially as mischievous or cheeky, often featuring in theatrical comedies

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A female servant or attendant; specifically, as a term of the theater, a lady's maid, in comedies, who acts the part of an intrigante; a meddlesome, mischievous female servant or young woman.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Theat., a maidservant in comedy, frequently a lady's-maid.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a minor female role as a pert flirtatious lady's maid in a comedy
  • n. a pert or flirtatious young girl

Etymologies

French, from Provençal soubreto, feminine of soubret, conceited, from soubra, to leave aside, from Old Provençal sobrar, to be excessive, from Latin superāre, from super, above; see uper in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From French soubrette, from Occitan soubreto, the feminine of soubret ‘coy’, from soubra (Provençal sobrar), from Latin superare ‘be above’. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • In classical music and opera, the term soubrette refers to both a soprano voice type and a particular type of opera role.

    Out of the Mouths of Babes

  • In theatre, the term soubrette describes a comedy character who is vain and girlish, mischievous, lighthearted, coquettish and gossipy--often a chambermaid or confidante of the ingenue, she often displays a flirtatious or even sexually aggressive nature.

    Out of the Mouths of Babes

  • A moment later, a waiting-woman, of middle age, and too well trained to dress like a "soubrette" of comedy, opened the door to him.

    The Lesser Bourgeoisie

  • The Chevalier Cocona, who had the misfortune to be suffering from a venereal disease, gave me up his mistress, a pretty little 'soubrette'; but in spite of the evidence of my own eyes, and in spite of the assurances she gave me, I could not make up my mind to have her, and my fear made me leave her untouched.

    The Complete Memoirs of Jacques Casanova

  • The role of the anguished femme fatale could have been made for the foxy, soubrette-ish Vallo, while Singleton's portrayal of the devoted, despairing Moon Dog is at once restrained and touching.

    Birmingham Royal Ballet: Pointes of View

  • They married the following year and she became the leading lady and soubrette in the Williams and Walker Company, soon after becoming famous in her own right as a performer of the Cakewalk.

    The Cakewalk | Edwardian Promenade

  • There was in Candy the femme fatale, the southern belle, the damsel in distress, the man-in-a-dress, the soubrette, the coquette, the vamp, the lady, and the tramp.

    Caroline Hagood: New Documentary Tries to Solve the Riddle of Andy Warhol's Candy Darling

  • Smoke is semi-gallantly seeking to help Lucille Arral, "the singing soubrette of the tiny stock company that performed nightly at the Palace Opera House," and to make a fast buck while putting some life into a moribund Dawson.

    “I am only a wild girl, and I am afraid of the world....”

  • The cabin boy in question, is on one of the bettor's yacht headed for Honolulu and when "he" falls overboard and is helped back on deck, is discovered by the yachtsman to be a girl, "a chit of a child" of 16, an orphan and "a soubrette of no mean ability."

    “Living hand to mouth. . .”

  • Composers such as Oscar Straus, Franz Lehár, and Edmund Eysler wrote for her expressive soubrette voice.

    Lina Abarbanell.

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Comments

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  • In France the type is often met,
    A flirty lass they call coquette,
    Who, given a dash
    Of sassy panache,
    Becomes the comedic soubrette.

    May 4, 2014

  • This word was chosen as Wordnik word of the day.

    November 11, 2009

  • "The amateur trotting horses who were just leaving the track from the last race were in a white lather—nervous, quivering, sensitive things. But Dan Patch was the old bored professional. When he looked up at the crowd it was like an old soubrette peeping through the curtains. He took one look and jogged on with about as much emotion as a butcher's delivery horse."
    —Charles Leerhsen, Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 318

    October 28, 2008