Saturday, February 6, 2010

Further Proof of a French Deficiency

No college class gave me as much trouble as French. It terrified me. Madame Vallois mimicked my southern accent when correcting my mistakes, bringing laughter from the other students, and I have a recurring dream in which I sit down to take a make-or-break French final without having ever studied or attended a class. Invariably, I wake up in a panic.

It all hit me again as I was reading a first printing of The Optimist's Daughter, Eudora Welty's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. When she mentions a "chaise longue," I had one of those ah-ha moments. Typo! Misplaced "u." Should be "chaise lounge." First printings are a breeding ground for small goofs -- and one foolproof way of telling a first printing from a (corrected) later one. You have the "man-woman" instead of "mad-woman" first printing error on page 25 of Cold Mountain. All first printings of The Corrections include an erratum slip with instructions to reverse-read pages 430 and 431.

I thought for sure I had found the publishing equivalent of a birthmark in Optimist's. But, upon further review, what I really discovered was that "chaise longue" was no typo at all, that it is French for "long chair." That's right. The French originated the word and we English speakers have mangled it over the centuries. Etymologists have found examples of "chaise lounge" starting to appear in our writings as far back as the 1850s. Welty was being true to the original.

Perhaps, had I been a better French student in college, I would have known that.


  1. Does look a little like char tongue.

  2. And I'd be so confused if I encountered the expression "chaise lounge"! :)


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