Wednesday, January 29, 2014

No exit

Today on Wordsmith Wednesday we examine (but not too closely, and you 'll see why in a moment) the term cul-de-sac. This is, as most people know, a dead-end street, yet another example (yawn) of English borrowing a French term.

Except maybe not! There is some entomological evidence that the usage first appeared in English in the early 1700s, when it was the fashion for English aristocrats with airs to speak in French -- then traveled across the Channel to become standard French. As a result, the French now use a phrase literally meaning "bottom of the bag"(or, if you want to be a little scatological, "ass of the bag", which makes no sense, but is fun to say) for a street with no exit.

The English haven't stopped chuckling since.

Here, by the way is the French street sign for a cul-se-sac (and don't pronounce the "l" in French). À tout à l'heure!

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