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A.Word.A.Day--french leave

Pronunciation RealAudio

French leave (french leev) noun

A departure or absence without permission.

[From the supposed 18th century French custom of leaving a reception without taking leave of the host or hostess.]

"Mr Major will also be seen as a limp wimp if he does not make an example of one of the Cabinet right-wingers: Peter Lilley for going on French leave during the European election campaign or John Redwood for disappearing back home to Planet Zanussi."
Andrew Rawnsley, Conservative Cannibalism, The Guardian (London), Jun 19, 1994.

"His insistent portrayal of the French as a race of daffy epicures is wearing thin in Provence II, as is his annoyingly literal translations of French conversations. It's time for Mr. (Peter) Mayle to take French leave."
Joe Queenan, Bookshelf: Taking French Leave, The Wall Street Journal (New York), Jul 30, 1991.

Some time back I received a query:

"Hi, Our elementary PTA is hosting a Chinese Auction. A parent who has two Chinese children has contacted us indicating that she feels this term is offensive. What is the origin of this term? Before changing the event name, we wish to educate ourselves on this issue and make an informed decision. Can you help me understand this term?"

A Chinese auction is a combination of auction and raffle. You can buy one or many tickets and bid them for various items. All the bidding tickets for an item are kept in a box. At the end of the event a ticket is drawn from each box and the owner of the ticket that's drawn from a box gets that item. The more tickets you bid on an item, the greater your chances of winning but the bidder of the maximum number of tickets is not guaranteed to win it.

I believe the term is no more offensive than, say, Chinese checkers. Having said that, I must mention that many of the stereotypical terms associated with nationalities are indeed offensive. It's often because the English didn't particularly think much of the Dutch or the French or the Irish or the Welsh or the ... Many years of hostility, war, and antagonism have taken toll on the language. These disparaging terms are not unique to English though. The French have perhaps as many terms for the English, for example "filer à l'anglaise" (to take English leave), the French equivalent of the English expression which we have selected as today's word.

This week we'll look at a few terms marking various nationalities. -Anu

X-Bonus

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. -Lao-Tzu, philosopher (6th century BCE)

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