Another passage from Luc Sante’s The Other Paris (see this post):

It was Lutèce, or Lutetia, under the Romans, and became Paris around 300 C.E. François Villon called it Parouart in his fifteenth-century thieves’ cant; Rimbaud called it Parmerde in a letter written in 1872. Sometime in the early nineteenth century, people started referring to it as Pantin — ironically, since Pantin was then a rustic village on the plain northeast of the city (the word also means “puppet,” which may have had something to do with its use) — and then around 1849 the name acquired an argot suffix and became Pantruche; the -truche may have derived from autruche, “ostrich.” The moniker survived well into the twentieth century, although somewhere near that age’s beginning it was overtaken in popular speech by Paname. Was that name inspired by the 1892 government swindle concerning the faltering Panama Canal project, described as the largest corruption scandal of the nineteenth century? That seems a likelier source than the Panama hat, cited by some, the object of a vogue after adorning the heads of workers returned from the isthmus. Paname stuck because it was sort of perfect: raffish, satirical, swaggering, and pointed all at once. Paname, like argot itself, has come to be most enduringly associated with chanson réaliste singers, midcentury crime fiction writers (Albert Simonin, Auguste le Breton, San-Antonio), and movie gangsters from Jean Gabin to Lino Ventura. Today it enjoys another life in hip-hop, employed by rappers as the local equivalent to the Rastafarians’ Babylon: the root of all corruption, racism, and malice.

The inhabitants, for somewhat more than a century, have been Parigots, with another pejorative suffix. (Parisien, meanwhile, was the slang term for an old horse about to be put down; it is also a loaf of bread.) Now and then you still hear the term titi, which comes from a word for street urchin (and ultimately from tirailleur, “sharpshooter”) and denotes a working-class Parisian of old stock, someone whose family had lived in the neighborhood for a century or more. There aren’t many of those left. The titi was a creature of the city when it was composed of so many villages — quartiers with functional autonomy, ad hoc institutions, and unspoken codes; where everyone of a given age had been kids together and knew one another’s virtues and foibles intimately. The quartier was for centuries the basic local entity. When the city was a world, the quartiers were nations, and they correspondingly drew all the fervent loyalty and instinctual identification that cities or countries usually inspire — the larger entities generally went without saying, except maybe in times of war. In 1943, A. J. Liebling encountered a tattooed casualty, with a tricolor wrapped around his waist, in a field hospital on the North African front. “When I asked him where he came from, he didn’t bother saying ‘Paris’ — just ‘Nineteenth Arrondissement.’ […]”

What a wonderful book!


  1. Thank you for posting about this, Hat! I would never have found out about this book otherwise, and it is a perfect gift for several people I know. I’ll be sure to order it following your link.

  2. Excellent!

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