Sunday, December 21, 2008

Everything You Need to Know About The French

From The Story of French (2008) by Jean-Benoit Nadeau & Julie Barlow, discussing the early history of the Académie française, at 74, 75 & 78:
All through its history the Academy's work on the dictionary has been plagued by incompetence and delays. In 1642 the Academy decided to pay one of its members, Vaugelas . . ., to work full-time on the dictionary, hoping to speed up its pace. He knew his business, reaching the letter I before he died in 1650. During the next twenty years, the Academy managed to review what Vaugelas had done but did not move ahead. Colbert, who had no tolerance for their slow pace, instructed his chancellor, Charles Perrault, to pay salaries to all members, hoping to stimulate their work. The rule was that Academy members who were present at the stroke of the meeting hour would be paid. That led to members spending the first half-hour of meetings debating whether the clock was right. Perrault tried to solve that problem by supplying the Academy with a state-of-the-art clock, but the prolonged, sometimes senseless debates persisted.. . .

Delays in the Academy's dictionary project were such that, in 1674, the Academy was given a monopoly from the King for producing a dictionary of bon usage, for their feared that more enterprising lexicographers . . . might be working behind their backs.. . .

[When the dictionary appeared, some] of the Academy's choices were frankly bizarre. The word anglais (English), was missing from every edition, but is expected to appear in the latest edition, slated for the 2010s. This absence is all the more puzzling since anglais is the root of accepted terms such as anglaise (a dance), anglican, anglicanisme, angliciser, anglicisme, anglomane, anglophille, anglophobe and anglophobie--all present in the 1935 edition.


Michael Yourshaw said...

Nice to know that OUR first important dictionary was prepared by a hungry entrepreneur, Samuel Johnson, working almost alone in a garret. An 18th century version of Hewlett & Packard's garage one might say.

OBloodyHell said...

> Everything You Need to Know About The French

My own variant:

"Put three Frenchmen in a room and they will promptly found four political parties."

I forget who said it, but it is pretty apt.

Carl said...


Johnson also finished in seven years; the Académie française took 55 years.


Never heard that one before, but I love it.

Anonymous said...

How can you ignore those very important sauces?! Let's see.....what is more important ....words? sauces? I will have to think about this one. Since I already have a whole bunch of words, I am inclined to think those French sauces are relatively more important right now. I am humble. I could be wrong. If I am, I trust you NOFP people to provide correct information and conclusions all the time. Thanks.