Street of Lost Time.

I have written about my love of old street names more than once (2007, 2020, 2021), and now that I’m reading Luc Sante’s The Other Paris (thanks, Keith!), I’ve come across a mother lode of them:

Sometimes the histories of streets are inscribed in
their names: Rue des Petites-Écuries because it once
contained small stables, Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire
(Daughters of Calvary) after a religious order that once
was cloistered there, Rue du Télégraphe marking the
emplacement during the revolution of a long-distance
communication device that functioned through relays of
poles with semaphore extensions. Sometimes streets
named by long-ago committees take on a certain
swagger from their imposed labels: the once-lively,
nowadays flavorless Rue de Pâli-Kao given a touch of
the exotic (the name is that of a battle in the Second
Opium War, in 1860), the stark and drab (and once
extraordinarily bleak, owing to the presence of
enormous gas tanks) Rue de l’Évangile endowed with
the gravity of the Gospels, the already ancient Rue
Maître-Albert made to seem even more archaic in the
nineteenth century by being renamed after the medieval
alchemist Albertus Magnus, who once lived nearby.

Among the oldest thoroughfares in Paris are the
streets of the Grande and Petite Truanderie, which is to
say the Big and Little Vagrancy Streets. There is the
Street of Those Who Are Fasting (Rue des Jeûneurs),
the Street of the Two Balls, the Street of the Three
Crowns, the Street of the Four Winds, the Street of the
Five Diamonds, the Street of the White Coats, the Street
of the Pewter Dish, the Street of the Broken Loaf—one
of a whole complex of streets around Saint-Merri
church (near the Beaubourg center nowadays) that are
named after various aspects of the distribution of bread
to the poor. Many street names were cleaned up in the
early nineteenth century: Rue Tire-Boudin (literally
“pull sausage” but really meaning “yank penis”)
became Rue Marie-Stuart; Rue Trace-Putain (the
“Whore’s Track”) became Trousse-Nonnain (Truss a
Nun), then Transnonain, which doesn’t really mean
anything, and then became Rue Beaubourg. Many more
streets disappeared altogether, then or a few decades
later, during Haussmann’s mop-up: Shitty, Shitter,
Shitlet, Big Ass, Small Ass, Scratch Ass, Cunt Hair.
Some that were less earthy and more poetic also
disappeared: Street of Bad Words, Street of Lost Time,
Alley of Sighs, Impasse of the Three Faces. The Street
Paved with Chitterling Sausages (Rue Pavée-
d’Andouilles) became Rue Séguier; the Street of the
Headless Woman became Rue le Regrattier.

You can see more of the text, along with some wonderful old photos (the book is full of them), here. And if you’re curious, rue Maître-Albert was called, from the 14th century until 1844, rue Perdue (“Lost Street”).


  1. What, you already knew these. They’re all borrowed from the Jacques Hillairet book you told me about.

    Wonderful book, the Sante. Literally full of wonders.

  2. I confess I haven’t actually memorized Hillairet. But I do enjoy looking up names there; that’s how I found the earlier name of rue Maître-Albert.

  3. This seems like a natural place to ask: What, if anything, is the significance of the named of the street, Rue d’Auseil, in H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann”?

    I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never again found the Rue d’Auseil. These maps have not been modern maps alone, for I know that names change. I have, on the contrary, delved deeply into all the antiquities of the place; and have personally explored every region, of whatever name, which could possibly answer to the street I knew as the Rue d’Auseil. But despite all I have done it remains an humiliating fact that I cannot find the house, the street, or even the locality, where, during the last months of my impoverished life as a student of metaphysics at the university, I heard the music of Erich Zann.

    That my memory is broken, I do not wonder; for my health, physical and mental, was gravely disturbed throughout the period of my residence in the Rue d’Auseil, and I recall that I took none of my few acquaintances there. But that I cannot find the place again is both singular and perplexing; for it was within a half-hour’s walk of the university and was distinguished by peculiarities which could hardly be forgotten by anyone who had been there. I have never met a person who has seen the Rue d’Auseil.

  4. Sez Wikipedia:

    Auseil is not a true French word, but it has been suggested that Lovecraft derived it from the phrase au seuil, meaning at the threshold. Auseil is read like oseille, meaning sorrel or, colloquially, money.

  5. an humiliating fact

    pronounced, I suppose, a new miliating fact.

  6. I was wondering for a minute if there was another Keith here. Now I remember (and it’s been less than 2 years). Glad you’re enjoying it!

  7. Heh. My wife and I frequently have to supplement each other’s fading memories.

  8. John Emerson says

    Aloysius Bertrand, Le Bibliophile

    Ce n’était pas quelque tableau de l’école flamande, un
    David-Téniers, un Breughel d’Enfer, enfumé à n’y pas
    voir le diable.

    C’était un manuscrit rongé des rats par les bords, d’une
    écriture toute enchevêtrée, et d’une encre bleue et rouge.

    – » Je soupçonne l’auteur, dit le Bibliophile, d’avoir
    vécu vers la fin du règne de Louis douze, ce roi de pater-
    nelle et plantureuse mémoire. »

    » Oui, continua-t-il d’un air grave et méditatif, oui,
    il aura été clerc dans la maison des sires de Chateau-
    vieux. »

    Ici, il feuilleta un énorme in-folio ayant pour titre le
    Nobiliaire de France, dans lequel il ne trouva mentionnés
    que les sires de Chateauneuf.

    – » N’importe ! dit-il un peu confus, Chateauneuf et
    Chateauvieux ne sont qu’un même château. Aussi bien il
    est temps de débaptiser le Pont-Neuf. «

  9. @languagehat: Thanks. I was just hoping that somebody here might have a more recondite interpretation.

    Unrelated: At the moment, among the random titles from your librarything bookshelf on display is Russian novelists in the age of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky by my good friend Alex Ogden (not related to the late Hattic Paul Ogden).

  10. And an excellent book it is!

  11. Alex’s co-editor on that book is actually his wife, Judy Kalb. Together, they constitute our Russian language faculty at the University of South Carolina.

  12. Her book Russia’s Rome: Imperial Visions, Messianic Dreams, 1890-1930, examines the image of ancient Rome in the writings of Russian modernists.

    Now that’s a book I’ll have to read.

  13. Apparently no one has yet mentioned la Rue de l’Étang de l’Écoute S’il Pleut, Le Plessis-Robinson, France

  14. London used to have Gropecunte Lane, and I think there were some others similarly named.

    San Francisco has Maiden Lane, which once was full of brothels. However, at that time it was called Morton Street. It was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. Afterwards there was a movement to displace the more disreputable elements from the old days.

    It was renamed Maiden Lane by an enterprising jeweler who wanted to conjure the Maiden Lanes of London and New York.

    I was just looking into Birdcage Walk, which apparently was named because of the aviary of James I, but the recently popular novel was set in Bristol. I just recorded the BBC version, but I haven’t listened to it yet.

    Where I live, Memorex Drive is a nod to the old days. There is also a street named after Phar Lap, because I believe Phar Lap was stabled around there.

    Also here, the old-time brothels were located on Orchard Street, and around the mid-1940s there was a campaign to not only put them out of business but to eradicate the name of the street as well. Most of the businesses, legitimate or not, were demolished and turned into parking lots. There are still a few little stubs with names like Old Orchard Street, but there is precious little business activity there.

  15. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    My daughter lives a couple of blocks from la Rue des Grands Champs, in Paris. There are no champs anywhere near, not even petits ones.

  16. Russia has a village in the Urals named after a battle in France in which Mongol cavalry annihilated the French army and France has a street in Paris named after a battle in China in which Anglo-French artillery annihilated the Mongol cavalry.

    Somehow it’s all very fitting.

  17. la Rue des Grands Champs

    The Academy of St Martin in the Fields is a pretty long way from any fields these days.

  18. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Or Kirk o’ Field in Edinburgh (of Darnley fame), although it isn’t even (not) in the original field any more.

    (Why is it ‘fame’ but ‘infamy’?)

  19. David Marjanović says

    Separate borrowings, I guess. Also compentence ~ competency, normalcy ~ normality… or indeed bank and bench.

    I wonder if the incongruous pronunciations of finite and infinite can be explained the same way; the pronunciation of the latter used to fluctuate.

  20. Finite/infinite fits the pattern of famous/infamous and pious/impious, but then there are plenty of pairs that don’t fit it.

  21. Hamid Ouyachi says

    In the 90s, there was a Greek restaurant on Rue des Quatre Vents aptly named: Éole.

  22. The Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche is named after, — well, —

    Elle doit son nom à l’enseigne d’un ancien commerce qui s’y trouvait. Ce commerce de poissons était la propriété d’un chanoine du nom de Dom Perlet dont le chat noir, d’une grande habileté, était célèbre pour sa capacité à extraire des poissons de la Seine d’un simple coup de patte.

    (French WP)

  23. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Then there are short streets called South Parade and North Parade in Oxford, South Parade being about 2 km north of North Parade.

  24. @ACB: Why does English reality always manage to look like something made up by Monty Python?

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    There are now no longer any moors or fields near the celebrated London eye hospital in

  26. Jen in Edinburgh says

    It took me a long time to realise that impious had to do with piety and not with imps.

  27. When I lived in San Francisco my apartment was located on on Clementina Street, which was widely believed to have been named after a notable Gold Rush era prostitute (or madam, I guess), as were a few of the adjacent streets with names like Tehama, Minna, and Clara. And there’s no denying that naming a cluster of streets after 19th century prostitutes is very San Francisco way of doing historical commemoration, and it gave our otherwise somewhat boring neighborhood a certain louche charm. Alas, inevitably someone actually thought to look into this matter and it turned out that at most one (and quite possibly zero – Minna was a well known sex worker of the time and even published an autobiography, but it’s unclear whether the street was named after her) SF streets were named after Gold Rush fancy women. Most of them, including my darling Clementina, were simply named after the wives and daughters of wealthy local barons.

  28. Separate borrowings, I guess. Also compentence ~ competency, normalcy ~ normality… or indeed bank and bench.

    This piqued my curiosity about the history of the formation of English normalcy, a word that sounds odd to me but has been used a lot in the US media during the last political cycle. So I went and looked at what the dictionaries and Google Books say.

    Both normality and normalcy are very late words in English.

    For normality, which is a more normally formed word, the OED’s first cite is from 1839. The TLFi gives 1834 for French normalité. However, to judge from Google Books searches, Normalität turns up much earlier in German scientific and medical works. And forms of New Latin normalitas turn up even earlier, as for instance in the collected works of Johann Bernoulli published in 1742. The OED also says: “Compare also post-classical Latin normalitas, the state of being governed by rule (late 11th cent., in an isolated attestation).” But it doesn’t say where this attestation is, unfortunately, and I have not been able to find it in a brief search.

    Normalcy is apparently later—first cite in the OED from 1857. There is nothing comparable to normalcy in the other European languages, to my knowledge, and few parallels to its formation in English. Here is the OED on the suffix -cy, for the curious:

    suffix of nouns, originating in Latin -cia, -tia, Greek -κια, -κεια, -τια, -τεια, in which the abstract ending -ia (-y suffix3) follows another formative element. Occurring chiefly in the combined forms -acy suffix, -ancy suffix, -ency suffix, -cracy comb. form, -mancy comb. form. Also in prophecy, Greek προϕητεία, < προϕήτης prophet; policy, Greek πολιτεία, < πολίτης citizen, -polite, secrecy < secret. In words in -acy from Latin -ātia, and those in -ncy, the c represents an original t before i, which became c often in late Latin and in French, e.g. Latin infantia, late Latin also infancia, French enfance, infancy. Hence abstract nouns in -ncy arise out of adjectives or nouns in -nt, expressing the quality of an adjective (fluent, fluency), or the estate or position of an agent or officer (agent, agency). But by proximity of sound, -cy is extended from nouns in -nt to some in -n, e.g. chaplain-cy, captain-cy, alderman-cy (after incumbency, lieutenancy, adjutancy), and -cy being thus treated as an independent suffix = -ship suffix, is extended to other words as colonel-cy, and is even added to words in -t (instead of being substituted for the -t), as in bankrupt-cy (for which the regular etymological form is bankrupcy), idiot-cy variant of idiocy n. (Greek ἰδιωτεία), baronet-cy, brevet-cy, cornet-cy (as against secret, secrecy).

    The only formation directly comparable to normalcy that I could find in the OED is a recent technical term from crystallography, interstitialcy. There are also things like the very early marshalcy (Anglo-Norman mareschalcie, c.1275) and the later, doubtless analogically formed admiralcy, generalcy, colonelcy, but these are built from nouns, in the way discussed by the OED, and bear only a surface resemblance to normalcy. Some Google searching will reveal plenty of recent deadjectival nonce formations like radicalcy and minimalcy, which have not entered the OED yet.

    But the reason I am bothering to post this comment at all is this article, “The Generalcy of Normalcy”, in Life from 1922, which I at least had never encountered before in linguistic treatments of the usage problems associated with normalcy and which illustrates some contemporary responses to Harding’s popularization of the word.

  29. That’s an amusing little squib, thanks for finding it! Harding was no great shakes, but I’m always disgusted by people pretending to be appalled by perfectly, er, normal linguistic usage in the mouths of politicians they dislike — “nucular” is another example — as if it indicated some deep idiocy or moral failing. There are plenty of objections you can make to politicians without descending to that sort of thing.

  30. I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere that Julian Schwinger (co-winner of the 1965 Physics Nobel with Feynman and Tomonaga) said ‘nucular’ and that many of his graduate students did the same, as an affectation.

    Schwinger was a New Yorker born to immigrant Jewish parents, so I don’t think there is any connection to G.W. Bush.

  31. There is no need to look for a particular source or to try to link particular users of the pronunciation (who include Carter as well as Bush); it is an extremely common and perfectly natural distortion of the official form. Geoff Nunberg wrote a whole book about this sort of thing (Going Nucular: Language, Politics and Culture in Confrontational Times), and Arnold Zwicky has a useful (if decade-old) roundup of posts on the topic.

  32. In Carter’s case, had he wanted to change how he said the word, he had ample opportunity. He would have had extensive exposure to the “correct” pronunciation of nuclear, since he trained as a nuclear engineer. (However, while he was a submarine officer, Carter actually left the U. S. Navy a few months before the launch of the Nautilus, the first nuclear sub. Although he was training to be a reactor officer, he did not complete the training; he was instead allowed to leave the service after his father’s death, so that he could take over the family peanut farm.)

  33. There is no need to look for a particular source or to try to link particular users of the pronunciation

    I realize that. I was just giving an example of an extremely not-stupid person who used that pronunciation.

  34. He would have had extensive exposure to the “correct” pronunciation of nuclear, since he trained as a nuclear engineer.

    My understanding (vague and perhaps ill-founded though it be) is that the “nucular” pronunciation is in fact frequent in such environments.

  35. David Marjanović says

    It’s also claimed to be a marker of Pentagon insiders, supposedly explaining why Bush used it.

    What’s unusual about it, and causes all the claims of illiteracy, is how blatantly it contradicts the spelling. Even in English, I can’t think of many other words more common than Featherstonehaugh where this happens – non-rhotic iron comes to mind.

  36. Colonel.

  37. Rhotic iron is at least as much at variance with the spelling.

  38. With Dan Quayle’s potatoe debacle it was a bit different. First, because he was prone to this sort of thing anyway; second, because it reinforced an existing image of him being stupid; third, because he condescended to correct a child who had spelled the word correctly.

    It’s all theater in any case, but in Quayle’s case I didn’t feel sorry for him.

  39. In Carter’s case, I wonder if nucular was so prevalent in the navy, that it was felt to be the correct pronunciation; as if a former sailor-turned-politician found out that all of a sudden everyone expected him to say fore-castle and boat-swain instead of fo’c’sl and bo’sun.

  40. Yes, I suspect it’s a bit like that.

  41. Kate Bunting says

    I relish the Parisian habit of giving ‘portmanteau’ names to Metro stations near road junctions, resulting in surreal combinations such as Réaumur-Sébastopol and my favourite, Sèvres-Babylone.

  42. i can’t find my copy of Six Walks in the Fictional Woods to give a proper citation, but i remember being at the lecture on The Three Musketeers (that later went into the volume) where umberto eco showed that dumas had used changing street names to hide the way d’artagnan at one key point takes an extended walk through paris that if you map it out just returns him to his own block. it was a tour de force performance, and it’s lovely to be reminded of it here!

  43. I wonder if the incongruous pronunciations of finite and infinite can be explained the same way; the pronunciation of the latter used to fluctuate.

    High in regal glory,
    ‘Mid eternal light,
    Reign, O King Immortal,
    Holy, Infinite!

  44. i can’t find my copy of Six Walks in the Fictional Woods to give a proper citation

    Yes, I remember being struck by that discussion when I saw the book long ago. Here are a couple of excerpts via Google Books:

    Where is the rue des Fossoyeurs, on which d’Artagnan lives? This street did exist in the seventeenth century, and doesn’t now for a very simple reason: the old rue des Fossoyeurs was the one we now call the rue Servandoni. So (1) Aramis lives on a street which was not known by that name in 1625, and (2) d’Artagnan lives on the same street as Aramis without knowing it. Indeed, d’Artagnan is in a pretty curious ontological situation: he believes that in his Paris of 1625 there are two streets with two different names, whereas there was only one with one name. […]

    One could suppose that naming the rue Servandoni was not a mistake but a trace, an allusion—that Dumas dropped this name in the margins of the text in order to alert his readers. He wanted them to realize that every fictional text contains a basic contradiction just because it’s trying so hard to make the fictional world coincide with the real one. Dumas wanted to demonstrate that every fiction is a self-voiding fiction. The title of the chapter “The Plot Grows Tangled” refers not only to the love affairs of d’Artagnan or of the queen but to the nature of narrativity itself.

  45. marie-lucie says

    Anglo-Norman mareschalcie, c.1275

    I just realized that this old word is a cognate of modern la maréchaussée, which is obviously an old word but still used in a more or less jocular way for la police montée or simply la police. I never thought of associating it with le maréchal, a pre-medieval military title of Germanic origin, preserved in English as marshal.

  46. Trond Engen says

    marie-lucie: la maréchaussée

    Anglified as the mare chasers.

    (It isn’t, you say? Well, it is now.)

  47. Trond Engen says

    Is this where I mention (again?) the important role walks through the streets of Paris play in Simenon’s Maigret novels.

  48. David L. Gold says

    @marie-lucie. You will be happy to know that the Dutch reflex of French maréchaussée is alive and well in The Netherlands (

  49. David Marjanović says

    Rhotic iron is at least as much at variance with the spelling.

    EYE-rən? That at least has everything in the right order. The non-rhotic version drops the supposedly intervocalic r out of this, which would make some amount of sense if it were spelled iorn, but none whatsoever for iron except in South Care-olina. This metathesis is very reminiscent of nookular, or of what happens to the s and the n in Featherstonehaugh.

    (Colonel is just as odd in a different way.)

  50. EYE-rən?

    No, EYE-(ə)rn. At least in the US.

  51. Yes, the metathesis is independent of rhoticity.

    The only time I’ve noticed people saying EYE-run is sometimes when singing “In the Bleak Midwinter”, where it stretches across two long notes.

  52. John Cowan says

    Spider Robinson wrote a short story called “God Is An Iron”, presumably a back-formation from ironic or ironist. I’ve always pronounced that use of iron like the other two, but with initial stress.

    On the other hand, as a child I pronounced irony as iron+y until someone corrected me.

  53. David Eddyshaw says

    EYE-rən is normal for Scots.

    As in Irn Bru:

    (with a helpful pronunciation guide)

  54. There is an important street in Mardin, Turkey, called Mutsuzlar Sokağı, “Street of the Unhappy”. I used to walk Mutsuzlar Sokağı down to my own house every night after spending the evening with friends who lived higher up the butte, in the neighborhood shown in this video about the street. I hope the local campaign to rename it Mutluluk Sokağı, “Happiness Street”, doesn’t succeed. (The first part of the video has no sound, but street sounds and audio of interviews kicks in after about a minute.)

  55. “God Is An Iron”

    Wikipedia: “In the theatre of ancient Greece, the eirôn (Ancient Greek: εἴρων) was one of three stock characters in comedy. The eirôn usually succeeded in bringing down his braggart opponent (the alazôn) by understating his own abilities.”

  56. John Cowan says

    As in Irn Bru

    I am pleased to see that a drink once sold from my adopted city and manufactured in my native state has become a symbol of the great Scottish nation.

  57. David Eddyshaw says

    “Perhaps as a result of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906, which introduced new standards of accuracy for labelling and limited the presence of additives or harmful ingredients, the popularity of Iron Brew declined rapidly in the US.”


    But I think all true Scots would agree that it’s fine if the Americans invented it, so long as the English didn’t. (I hereby ignore troubling passages in the latter part of the article.)

  58. J.W. Brewer says

    By contrast, Iron City lager beer (a long-time staple of Pittsburgh drinkers, although as I understand it the current owners bought the brand out of bankruptcy after some sort of a hiatus or discontinuity in production and are now making it in another area brewery formerly associated with a rival brand) is sometimes given the jocular spelling “Arn City,” to denote the Pittsburghese pronunciation of “iron.”

  59. This afternoon, my daughter and I went to an exhibit at the Columbia Art Museum entitled “The Ironic Curtain,” with works by underground Soviet artists.

  60. They ironed the curtain underground on a special ironing board.

  61. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I would always sing EYE-urn in In ‘The Bleak Midwinter’, but have EYE-run at least intermittently elsewhere. Just to add to any confusion.

  62. Why is it ‘fame’ but ‘infamy’?

    Because in Latin the derivation goes through an i-stem adjective: fama – infamis – infamia.

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