WE’RE ON PLACE DE WHAT?

Mark Liberman at the Log has a great post on the history of the Place des États-Unis in Paris. It was called the place de Bitche, after a town in Moselle “which had valiantly resisted the Prussian invasion during the war of 1870,” until 1881, when the U.S. embassy moved there. The name was so offensive to American sensibilities that the Mayor of Paris changed it to its present name, which it has kept even though the embassy moved to the Place de la Concorde some decades later. One odd sidelight is that the French apparently think bitch means ‘prostitute,’ probably because (as Laurent C says in the comments) English “son of a bitch” is equivalent to French “fils de pute.”

Comments

  1. Megazver says:

    Well, ‘she-wolf’ meant ‘prostitute’ in Latin, so there’s a link.

  2. outeast says:

    Many nationalities consider bitch to mean prostitute (judging from the number of times I heard this from students during my erstwhile TEFLing ‘career’).

  3. In America, urban low-lifes with whom I interact often use “bitch” as a term for “prostitute.” I wonder if the general American culture’s use of “bitch” with the meaning of “unpleasant woman” is a recent semantic shift from an older usage that was common to many European languages (Fr “biche”; Port “bicha” are two that spring to mind).

  4. John Emerson says:

    Some lowlifes use “bitch” just to mean any woman. Compare “lady”.

  5. But biche and bicha are from bestia, like bête and beast. bitch is good old Anglo-Saxon, with Norse cognates.

  6. Kilian Hekhuis says:

    ‘One odd sidelight is that the French apparently think bitch means ‘prostitute,’ probably because (as Laurent C says in the comments) English “son of a bitch” is equivalent to French “fils de pute.”‘
    As Mark Liberman explains in that same blog posting, “The French wikipedia entry explains the pun like this:
    [2] bitch : femme de mauvaise vie
    which is not quite right in terms of contemporary usage, where the slang term bitch is mostly used to suggest that a woman is malicious and unpleasant. But as you could guess from the residue in the insulting phrase “son of a bitch”, it seems that through the 19th century, the OED’s sense 2.a. was retained”
    Read the blog post in full for further reference. So it’s not that the French think the contemporary meaning of ‘bitch’ is prostitute, but that it (appearently) was at that time.

  7. I’ve got Norse cognates too, my mother having been Norwegian-American.

Speak Your Mind

*