My wife and I have been on something of a Belmondo kick recently, and after watching Classe tous risques (which I learned is a pun on classe touriste ‘economy class’) and Breathless we moved on to Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic noir Le Doulos. It’s good that they generally keep the title in French even for American DVDs, because to call it The Finger Man (under which title it was originally released in the English-speaking world) misses an important ambiguity. As a title at the beginning of the film says, doulos is a slang word for ‘hat’ — but in the specialized jargon of cops and crooks, it means a police informer, and the movie foregrounds both senses. Not only are various people always calling the cops on other people, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many hats in a movie; indeed, the last shot of the film focuses on a fallen fedora. If you like hats, Belmondo, and/or good movies, I highly recommend it.

By the way, the Wiktionary article says the word is from Ancient Greek δοῦλος ‘slave, servant.’ Permit me to have my doubts.


  1. See the entry here for doulos and its variants doulosse, doul, doule in Jean-Paul Colin et al., Dictionnaire de l’argot français et de ses origines. They take it from douil. For more on douil, see the Wiktionnaire and the FEW under dolium.

  2. For the final of doulos, compare bitos in the TLFi and in Bob, both available here.

  3. Thanks! I would not have expected douil to be pronounced \dwil\. But I’m not sure I see how a word for either “a 450-litre barrel used in the French Médoc” or “in the Bordeaux region of France, an open cask used to cart grapes from the vineyard to the winery that holds approximately 56-64 litres,” depending on who you believe, comes to mean ‘hat.’

  4. Cowboy hats weren’t a full 10 gallons either.

  5. I was just about to observe the same thing Ryan did — even Texan hats hold a maximum of only 37.9 litres!

    I feel like I have read an account of the etymology of ten-gallon hat somewhere that gave citations for variations in the capacity, such as twenty-gallon hat, etc., as here describing this hat. Was this discussion on LH?

  6. Doule and doulosse appear, among other hats, in the 1901 dictionary of French argot of Aristide Bruant (who knew?) FEW has both among hat words of unknown etymologies. For doulosse, it references Sainéan’s Le langage parisien au XIXe siècle, which speculates that Doulosse was the name of a hatmaker. Sainéan’s source for the word was a quote, also appearing in Bruant’s dictionary, from one of Bibi Chopin’s (= Léon de Bercy) letters in Parisian slang, published in Bruant’s magazine La Lanterne in the late 1890s (here).
    Lazare Sainéan, aka Lazăr Șăineanu, aka Eliezer Schein, was an interesting guy I didn’t know about.

    Doulle in FEW is referenced to something abbreviated as “Lc” but I couldn’t find out what that is.

  7. If there can be Bucket hats, and Fr. ‘casque’ > cask, surely there can be barrel hats. “The sense evolution is uncertain” pshaw!

  8. Interesting – I just wrote about doulous:

  9. Stu Clayton says

    I would not have expected douil to be pronounced \dwil\.

    poêle is another such tripper-upper, pronounced /pwal/.

  10. Trond Engen says

    @David C. (in the linked blog post):

    When Etymonline says “Pre-Greek,” it sometimes refers to a Semitic etymology.

    This presumably reflects Beekes (2010), unless the entry is older than that.

    Do you see tendencies in the Semitic borrowings — age, source language, semantic field, …? Phoenician/Canaanite from ~1200 BCE would be expected and easy to explain. Anything else would be extremely interesting.

  11. jack morava says

    See also perhaps the Coen brothers’ `Miller’s Crossing’,

    for some more cinematic hats. I don’t think they’re in Dashiell Hammett’s underlying novel `The Glass Key’ which stands by itself…

  12. Monsieur Hat,
    You have a Borsalino. There’s a film named after that, too… Also Belmondo. I cannot see that it has had much mention here, so I thought I’d mention it!

  13. Thanks! I remember liking that movie when I saw it back in the Stone Age; I should really watch it again.

  14. How did SIL’s Doulos font get its name, I wonder. It features “complete support for the IPA” and used to show up quite frequently in academic articles about Pacific-area languages, in my experience.

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    This being SIL, the name must surely allude to the Greek δοῦλος, but I don’t know why “slave/servant” seemed like a cromulent font name. A ser(i)f font?

  16. P.S. FEW misquotes doule as doulle. A better link to Sainéan is this (p. 358).

    The quoted sentence is “Car faut qu’tu saches qu’a va pus nu-tête ; a s’a payé un bloum, un bath doulosse à 4 fr. 80 dans l’faubourg.” Bath ‘excellent, beautiful’ has also resisted conclusive etymologizing. TLFi gives some attempts; I agree with it that “aucune des hyp. proposées n’étant pleinement satisfaisante.”

    From the context, I don’t think that a doulosse is anything like a bucket hat or a casquette. 4 fr. 80 in 1897 is like 40 or 50 euro today. Not fancy but not cheap.

  17. something abbreviated as “Lc”

    Lc refers to the work described here. Lacassagne is billed as ‘Chef de Clinique à la Faculté de Lyon. Médecin des Prisons et du Service des Mœurs de la ville de Lyon’. A pdf of the 1948 edition can be found here.

  18. Thanks, Xerîb. Try as I did, I couldn’t find the source abbreviation list for the FEW.

    Lacassagne refers to Bruant’s dictionary, plus quotes Marmouset’s 1922 Au Lion Tranquille: “Tu vas aller y enfoncer son doulle jusqu’aux cliquettes.” [= ears.]

    It also has douille ‘cheveux’ but I don’t think the two are related.

  19. For LH readers who are interested in the etymology of Greek δοῦλος, there is a run-down of the (many!) proposals in V. Blažek (2002–03) ‘Greek *dohelos “Servant”’, DO-SO-MO. Fascicula Mycenologica Polona 4–5, p. 61–66, available here.

    At the end, Blažek offers his own proposal proposes: δοῦλος, Mycenaean do-e-ro, is a borrowing of a Canaanite *dōʔēlu from the root *dwl. Note that Akkadian dayyālu ‘prowling; scout’ and dayyālu ‘servant’ are both attested very late. And Black et al., Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, frankly take dayyālu ‘servant’ as an Aramaic loanword in Neo-Babylonian texts.

    At the Wiktionary entry for δοῦλος, is that Akkadian daggālu so confidently cited as 𒁕𒀝𒂵𒇻 da-ag-ga-lu (as opposed to dayyālu from dwl) even attested?? It’s not in Black, or the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, or von Soden’s Akkadisches Handwörterbuch.

  20. Cf. David Curwin’s Balashon post linked above.

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