Lustucru.

Another delightful tidbit from the Public Domain Review (see this LH post):

Jé Wilson charts the migration of the Lustucru figure through the French cultural imagination — from misogynistic blacksmith bent on curbing female empowerment, to child-stealing bogeyman, to jolly purveyor of packaged pasta.

It’s an amazing story, but this is the bit of linguistic interest:

His name, Lustucru, comes from a slurring of “L’eusses-tu-cru?”, a stock phrase used in that period by theatrical fools, which meant, “Would you have believed it?” or in this case, “Would you have thought a woman’s head could be fixed?”

Once I have it spelled out for me, I can see the derivation, but I wouldn’t have guessed it, because the imperfect subjunctive of avoir is not uppermost in my consciousness. My question to actual French-speakers is: is it obvious to you that Lustucru = L’eusses-tu-cru? (I am reminded, for some reason, of the Russian phrase andermanir shtuk.)

Comments

  1. AJP Crown says:

    I love the Lustucru posters towards the bottom.

    https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjonctif_plus-que-parfait_en_fran%C3%A7ais

  2. I find it disconcerting how the French Wikipedia disambiguation page for Lustucru feels the need to spell it out, but perhaps that adds evidence to your question:

    «Le terme Lustucru provient de l’expression l’eusses-tu cru, conjugaison du groupe verbal « le crois-tu » au plus-que-parfait du subjonctif.»

  3. It certainly suggests it’s not immediately obvious; thanks!

  4. Owlmirror says:

    If I saw a slurred and clipped and eye-dialect “wudjabliv” or similar, I think I wouldn’t easily parse it as “Would you believe”.

    FWIW.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Qui eût cru appears in Lucky Luke, evidently for space reasons.

  6. Why not “Leustucru”?

  7. Because eusses is pronounced as if spelled “uss.”

  8. The French spelling system is not as rational as it’s cracked up to be.

  9. Paul Atlan says:

    This is interesting because my kids are at an age where they study some of those weird conjugations. At one point someone in class will realize that “L’eusse-tu cru?” sounds like “Lustucru” and joke about it.
    But it’s very clearly disappearing from “common” knowledge. I’m not sure i would have remembered it was the “imparfait du subjonctif” off the top o my head.
    Speaking of heads, the entire derivation from “opérateur céphalique” is new to me. I’d have to check with my French teacher friends, but I’m pretty sure that has definitely been lost to history.

    On a side note, another phrase that would get (male) teenage giggles was “Encore eut-il fallu que je le susse”. (I would have needed to know). “Susse” (has known) is an exact homonym for “suce” (suck), and “fallu” is one slip of the tongue away from “phallus” – This one, while it has not been the source of a brand of pasta. Is probably better known among the discerning 14 year old crowd.

  10. dainichi says:

    Exactly how archaic is the type of construction in “L’eusses-tu-cru”? Is it still common in writing? A more contemporary version would be “(est-ce que) tu l’aurais cru?”, is that right?

    As for counterfactual conditional constructions (of which I consider this a case with the if-part removed), I always found Spanish and Italian quite intuitive, since similarly to English, they have “If [subjunctive past], [conditional]” for the non-past, and “if [subjunctive pluperfect], [past conditional]” for the past, whereas the French/German situation seems a bit more complicated.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    The German situation is generally simpler, because the “past” subjunctive (hätte, wäre, täte) and the conditional (würde haben, würde sein, würde tun) have become exactly synonymous.

    Present meaning:

    wenn das so wäre, wäre es so “if it was/were that way, it would be that way”
    wenn ich das hätte, hätte ich es “if I had it, I’d have it”
    wenn ich das tun würde, würde ich das tun “if I did that, I’d do it”

    I did once encounter a second-hand report of prescriptivists having, in earlier decades, said that wenn ich das tun würde is wrong because wenn-Sätze sind würdelos “if-clauses lack Würde = dignity” and has to be replaced by wenn ich das täte. In reality, the synthetic subjunctive is used for common irregular verbs and the analytic conditional for less common regular verbs regardless of clause type. (Regional etc. variation ensues on which verbs count as which.)

    I have not encountered an explicit claim that, conversely, the conditional is wrong in then-clauses (with or, as in all my examples, without an explicit “then”).

    Past meaning:

    wenn das so gewesen wäre, wäre es so gewesen “if it had been that way, it’d have been that way”
    wenn ich das gehabt hätte, hätte ich es gehabt “if I’d had that, I’d have had it”
    wenn ich das getan hätte, hätte ich das getan “if I’d done that, I’d have done it”

  12. Stu Clayton says:

    Mögen hätt ich schon wollen, aber dürfen hab ich mich nicht getraut! [Karl Valentin]

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Topic-and-comment clauses! 🙂

    “Sure, I would have wanted to like*, but I didn’t dare to be allowed!” It’s probably very funny in context, Valentin having been a stage comedian.

    * as in “I’d like to”

  14. Stu Clayton says:

    In less demanding terms, it’s a comedy-syntax jokey-poo. To get the jokiness (sp??), you need to have heard the various parts of it a thousand times, so your head doesn’t explode from analytical effort.

    The joke framework is: simple man tries to express himself in a register higher than that to which he is accustomed. “I woulda liked to, but didn’t dare dare”.

  15. minus273 says:

    Because “eu” in forms of “avoir” was originally two syllables “eü” = Italian avu(to) etc.

  16. Ah, if I knew that I’d forgotten.

  17. Because eusses is pronounced as if spelled “uss.”

    Well goddamn, all these years and I never knew that. The dangers of being an autodidact.

  18. John Cowan says:

    “I woulda liked to, but didn’t dare dare”.

    Almost exactly what GT makes of it: “I would have liked to, but I dare not dare!” These reflect an older variety of English in which dare is still a fully modal verb and is followed by a plain infinitive rather than a to-infinitive.

  19. Stu Clayton says:

    GT does well to avoid elegant variation. We’d never see the end of it else.

  20. “I durst not dare”??

  21. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s good !

  22. In Jacques Demy’s Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, creepy old Subtil Dutrouz uses an imperfect subjunctive in the dinner scene, which is written entirely in alexandrines:

    Je vous ai déja vue, comme ça, face à face,
    À moins que d’autres femmes ainsi vous ressemblassent!

    I’m not sure whether the imperfect subjunctive is correct in this context, so I don’t know whether the joke is that Dutrouz is an old fogey who uses superannuated grammar, or that he’s an old fogey who tries to use superannuated grammar and gets it wrong.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    “I woulda liked to, but didn’t dare dare”.

    Except that dürfen doesn’t mean “dare”. It means “be allowed to”.

    A thousand years ago it meant “need”, “require” – that has changed into bedürfen.

  24. McCartney on Lennon:

    Aunt Mimi, who had looked after him since he was so high, used to tell me how he was cleverer than he pretended, and things like that. He had written a poem for the school magazine about a hermit who said: ‘as breathing is my life, to stop I dare not dare.’ This made me wonder right away — ‘Is he deep?’ He wore glasses so it was possible, and even without them there was no holding him.

  25. Stu Clayton says:

    I woulda liked to, but I dared not may.

  26. dainichi says:

    > because the “past” subjunctive (hätte, wäre, täte) and the conditional (würde haben, würde sein, würde tun) have become exactly synonymous.

    Aha, I was taught it depends on the verb, so (roughly) a verb with a marked (i.e. umlaut) konjunktiv uses it, whereas those without use würde. Are you saying that sentences like

    (?) wenn das so sein würde, würde es so sein
    (?) wenn er das glaubte, glaubte er das
    (with the meaning “if he thought so, he would think so”>

    are cromulent? Surely there’s no pluperfect conjunctive – past conditional free choice like that, is there?

    (???) wenn das so gewesen sein würde, würde es so gewesen sein (not even sure about word order here…)

    When I see phenomena where French and German behave differently from the rest of “European”, I find my mind trying to relate it to other “core SAE” things, like the past perfect replacing the simple past, but not sure if there’s a connection here.

    https://www.peterlang.com/view/9783631695968/images/page285_01.jpg

  27. This is complicated and depends on region and register.
    Basically, the more collquial the language, the less you will see of the Konjunktiv. DM has it right – “In reality, the synthetic subjunctive is used for common irregular verbs and the analytic conditional for less common regular verbs regardless of clause type.” So, wenn das so sein würde, würde es so sein is not something I would say, because sein is one of these common irregular verbs; I’d use wäre in both parts. But I also wouldn’t bat an eyelid at it when I’d see it written or hear it spoken. My understanding is that use of würde is more normal in the South, because for many Southern speakers the simple past that forms the basis for the Konjunktiv II isn’t part of their normal toolbox.
    In wenn er das glaubte, glaubte er das, the Konjunktiv II in the apodosis is weird; I’d use würde there, and in this specific case maybe also in the protasis, in order to keep the parallelism.
    wenn das so gewesen sein würde, würde es so gewesen sein – again, not what I would do (I’d use gewesen wäre in both cases), but I wouldn’t find it remarkable.

  28. Stu Clayton says:

    The old vulgar Kölsch-speaking women who walk their moribund dogs in the dog park here use täte [verb] universally. “Der täte ich nicht trauen.” They slip into würde only occasionally, when they’re trying to rise above their social station.

  29. dainichi says:

    Thanks, Hans!

    Come to think of it, Danish actually also has some cases (although quite limited in distribution) where the simple past (there’s no con-/subjunctive in Danish) can do the work of the conditional, and the pluperfect that of the past conditional, e.g. jeg så gerne / jeg havde gerne set being a possibility besides jeg ville gerne se / jeg ville gerne have set (I would like to see / I would have liked to see), with my personal impression being that the former is slightly stilted.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    I woulda liked to, but I dared not may.

    Yes!

    I was taught it depends on the verb, so (roughly) a verb with a marked (i.e. umlaut) konjunktiv uses it, whereas those without use würde.

    That’s a good rule of thumb for the more common verbs. People don’t necessarily even remember the marked ones of less common verbs, because the combinations of ablaut, umlaut and paradigms leveled in different directions can get pretty abstruse – sterben, past starb, Konjunktiv II stürbe; schwimmen, schwamm, schwömme. I definitely wouldn’t use them in speaking or in written dialog, but might use them in written narration. (And definitely in anything meant to sound even slightly archaic.)

    Are you saying that sentences like

    (?) wenn das so sein würde, würde es so sein
    (?) wenn er das glaubte, glaubte er das (with the meaning “if he thought so, he would think so”>

    are cromulent?

    They’re perfectly grammatical. As Hans said, the first is generally unidiomatic because wäre is a high-frequency word, and the second is unidiomatic in my experience, but perhaps not farther north, because in this case (a regular verb) the Konjunktiv II is identical to the indicative past – I need half an extra second to parse it.

    (???) wenn das so gewesen sein würde, würde es so gewesen sein (not even sure about word order here…)

    The word order is perfect, and the whole thing isn’t less idiomatic than sein würde.

    Google finds 374.000 hits for “gewesen sein würde”. Some of them contain commas (despite the quotation marks in the search!), another is mockery by a prescriptivist (about the “unfulfilled future perfect”), but at least half of those on the first page are genuine – and even come from serious 19th- or 18th-century nonfiction.

    My understanding is that use of würde is more normal in the South, because for many Southern speakers the simple past that forms the basis for the Konjunktiv II isn’t part of their normal toolbox.

    It’s more complicated than that. The loss of the simple past has freed the K II of regular verbs from confusion, so it is actually in very common use for regular verbs in the dialects (less in Viennese mesolect, definitely not in anything approaching Standard usage); however, the K II of many irregular verbs has been regularized or partially regularized in the dialects, making the Standard forms unpredictable enough that we were taught them (and the simple past) in school just to be sure, and leading to the use of würde as an avoidance strategy – avoidance both in cases when people can’t remember the Standard form, and in cases when they remember them just fine but think they sound to archaic-poetic because of their abstruse vocalism (like the mentioned stürbe & schwömme).

    “Der täte ich nicht trauen.”

    That’s very common in Austrian dialects and Viennese mesolect. However, it hasn’t replaced würde. So sometimes that leaves us with three ways to say the same thing!

    (Actually five: I haven’t yet mentioned the enormous variety of K Ii forms within a single dialect. In mine, and all the way to Vienna at least, täte is usually /tad/, but can be expanded to /tarɐd/ by some complicated analogy or other; würde is usually /vʊɐ̯t/, but can be doubled up to /vʊɐ̯tɐd/ by adding the regular ending. Nothing of this changes the meaning at all.)

  31. Lars (the original one) says:

    @dainichi, I think gerne is carrying the load of ‘conditionality’ there — I think German would have gern plus conditional in the same sense, and English would have would like to.

    Anyway, the matter of tenses in conditional clauses (apodosis) is interesting. Non-past is future unknown or general, preterite is hypothetical (even about the future, if considered unlikely), and analytic past perfect is (past) contrafactual. There is considerable overlap, pragmatics rule the roost. This probably arose from a stage where some of these cases used the subjunctive. (And it not really so different from English as I learned it).

  32. Echos of “whodunnit” for me.

  33. I’m not a native speaker, obviously, but, wenn das so gewesen sein würde, würde es so gewesen sein, broke my German parser. dainichi’s other marginal examples I could just read and understand (and even form tentative judgements about how idiomatic they were), but when I got to that last one, I was totally at a loss. I had to go through it word by word to infer the intended meaning.

  34. Still Waters says:

    If I ever knew the derivation of Lustucru, I forgot all about it until reading this post. I suspect the rareness of second person singular inversion combines with the archaic verb inflexion to make it opaque to most modern speakers.

    As for eu and eusses pronounced /y/ and /ys/, they’re the result of a loss of prevocalic schwas that was reflected unevenly in the orthography:

    – It was kept in some forms of avoir, eau and the suffix -eau, the name Jean, the infinitive asseoir, but not the analogical indicative forms based on it (je m’assois, etc.)

    – Its loss was marked by a circumflex as in sûr (older seur or seür, from securum) or mûre (older meure or meüre, from maturum/am)

    – It was removed entirely as in échoir (older écheoir, from ex+cadere) or savoir’s past participle su (Old French seü, from *saputum), which afaik was the most common outcome.

  35. Stu Clayton says:

    Brett: I had to go through it word by word to infer the intended meaning

    The sentence

    # wenn das so gewesen sein würde, würde es so gewesen sein #

    *in this context of mere discussion* did not break my parser, since I don’t parse German. Instead, I simply load the pre-compiled lot. Initial validation checks on syntax are performed, everything’s colorlessly green. End of story for *mere discussion*.

    What the sentence might mean is deferred to run-time evaluation. If anyone actually said that in a conversation, I would take it as a joke – and if it turned out not to be intended as a joke, I would call bullshit.

    It’s not a sentence that repays understanding it, unless you’re being paid by the line. An infinite number of sentences can be generated that aren’t worth understanding. That’s the little-recognized point of Chomsky’s famous sentence. You can talk forever about that sentence, but not about what it means.

    With one little sentence Chomsky created whole new fields of research and discourse, providing jobs for those who raise families. The same service to posterity was done by whoever came up with “the cat is on the mat”, and “all Cretans are liars”.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    wenn das so gewesen sein würde, würde es so gewesen sein, broke my German parser.

    It’s just wenn das so gewesen wäre, wäre es so gewesen with wäre mechanically replaced by sein würde and then the word-order rules applied; wäre and würde are finite verb forms, so they go in the same places (last in the dependent clause, second in the independent clause whose first slot is theoretically occupied by a missing dann), but sein is not, so it moves elsewhere (as close to the ends as possible).

  37. John Cowan says:

    An infinite number of sentences can be generated that aren’t worth understanding. That’s the little-recognized point of Chomsky’s famous sentence.

    In the original context, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” was a counterexample to the idea of statistical and structureless grammaticality as pushed by behaviorists like Watson, who “made up his throat that he had no mind” when he proclaimed that thinking was just subvocalizing.

    None of the consecutive word-pairs were at all likely to show up in a corpus, but the sentence is grammatical nonetheless. (Of course they might show up now, but only in allusion to this example.)

    But the sentence has certainly been used for many other purposes since then.

  38. Still Waters: Thanks for that! If only people wrote self-instruction language books for the likes of me, with lots of historical information to explain the oddities of the present-day language, I’d be very happy.

  39. ktschwarz says:

    an older variety of English in which dare is still a fully modal verb and is followed by a plain infinitive rather than a to-infinitive

    Preserved in amber in “the love that dare not speak its name.” But the amber isn’t fully solid: the line is quoted a lot with “dares” instead (I mean intended-to-be-exact quotes, with quotation marks, not allusions with sort-of-updated language). The awesome John Lawler wrote an awesome comment on stackexchange, in response to a question on dare:

    Need is similar; they’re called “semi-modal” verbs. It’s always possible to treat them as regular verbs, that inflect and take infinitives with to, but in a Negative Polarity context (like not or never or Question), they can be used like modals, with no inflection and infinitives without to. Many archaic affordances like this linger on as NPIs; I often think of Negative Polarity as a Poet’s Corner of the language.

    “The X that dare[s] not speak its name” is a widespread snowclone; I’m surprised that snowclonologists don’t seem to have documented it, especially considering it’s been a Language Log post title, The film that dare not speak its name.

  40. Both need and dare function as full modals in questions as well: Need he go on? Dare I ask? In German, yes/no questions can start with any verb, but in English it needs to be a modal. More generally, dare as a modal seems to me to be merely high register, not archaic.

    In the course of thinking about this, I noticed several oddities. First, the verb go does not exist as a modal in the third person singular. All these are fine:

    Watch me when I go jump off that roof.
    Watch them when they go jump off that roof.
    Watch yourself when you go jump off that roof.
    [This one means something slightly different, but that’s pragmatics.]

    However, with the third person singular, it is not grammatical. It requires both that the verb be inflected, and the use of to with the infinitive.

    (*)Watch him when he go jump off that roof.
    (*)Watch him when he goes jump off that roof.
    (*)Watch him when he go to jump off that roof
    Watch him when he goes to jump off that roof.

    My gut feeling is that go is not sufficiently modal that it can be used in the third person singular without inflection, and then once it is inflected, the bare infinitive is no longer appropriate.

    However, model do does still inflect: Does he know the answer? He does know the answer. So there is clearly more to it with these sometime modals.

  41. Rodger C says:

    Gary Snyder: “He go gets it.” I believe he explained that this is actually his dialect.

  42. PlasticPaddy says:

    Back-formation from go-getter?

  43. Rodger C says:

    Back-formation from the imperative, I’ll bet.

  44. The old vulgar Kölsch-speaking women who walk their moribund dogs in the dog park here use täte [verb] universally. “Der täte ich nicht trauen.”

    Just found this in Michael Gilleland’s wonderful blog Laudator Temporis Acti:

    In the MHG period the causative construction of tuon plus infinitive, frequent in OHG and in texts influenced by Latin in the EMHG period, is shared by all dialects in epic and lyric poetry; it decreases in frequency in the fourteenth century. This is the time when the periphrastic use of tuon plus infinitive becomes common: er tut sprechen ‘er spricht.’

    There’s a reference to what sounds like an indispensable book if one is interested in the topic, Nils Langer, Linguistic Purism in Action: How Auxiliary ‘Tun’ Was Stigmatized in Early New High German (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2001).

  45. Stu Clayton says:

    What is a “causative construction” ? What is the connection between causative and periphrastic ?

  46. Causative:

    All languages have ways to express causation but differ in the means. Most, if not all, languages have specific or lexical causative forms (such as English rise → raise, lie → lay, sit → set). Some languages also have morphological devices (such as inflection) that change verbs into their causative forms or change adjectives into verbs of becoming. Other languages employ periphrasis, with control verbs, idiomatic expressions or auxiliary verbs. There tends to be a link between how “compact” a causative device is and its semantic meaning.

    The normal English causative verb or control verb used in periphrasis is make rather than cause.

    Much more at the link. Periphrasis is the usage of multiple words (rather than prefixes, suffixes, etc.) to carry the meaning.

  47. The normal English causative verb or control verb used in periphrasis is make rather than cause.

    In case that’s not clear: we normally say “I’ll make you do it” rather than “I’ll cause you to do it.”

  48. Stu Clayton says:

    Hmph. I knew periphrasis only as beating around the bush. More thought is needed. But thanks for the quick brown fox.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    I had no idea it ever was a causative, but I can just barely see how that could work.

  50. David Eddyshaw says:

    the verb go does not exist as a modal

    Irrelevant, but why not … go has metamorphosed into a simple preverbal future marker in West African English-lexifier creoles, e.g in Nigerian Pidgin

    A go chɔp am = “I’m going to eat it.”
    A go go fɔ haws = “I’m going home.”

    (Even irrelevanter: I just watched L’Année dernière à Marienbad, and in the process of frantic googling along the lines of “what the hell did I just see?” discovered that the lead actress’s mother was Ferdinand de Saussure’s niece – my farfetched pretext for mentioning the matter at all. It all fits, I tell you!)

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