Thursday, November 10, 2005

When French words go bad

Due to the Paris riots shenanigans ringing Paris with a halo of burned out cars, the government recently announced a curfew. Now “curfew” is one of those outcast words in English that really makes no sense on its own and has no interesting resonances – you don’t see it often in poems for example.

However, in French, the expression is “couvre feu,” which translates literally as “cover fire.” Back in the bad old days (i.e., long before Molotov cocktails had been invented) you covered the fire so the bad guys couldn’t see you at night, and of course once you did this it was hard to do crossword puzzles or watch TV so you pretty much had to stay put.

It is relatively easy to see how “couvre feu” got mangled into curfew over a few beers in one of those seedy seaside towns around Dover, and we have been stuck with curfew every since.