Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Word of the day: piétaille

Meandering through Wikipedia articles in French this morning hoping to satisfy my curiosity about the history of the system of higher education (which is apparently unique, but that is another topic) and its relationship to the socio-economic system, I encountered a word I didn't know: piétaille, those who go on foot. I looked for a translation to English in a Larousse dictionary, but found none. I looked for a definition in French in a big, old two-volume Larousse, but found none. Why not, I wonder? Does the Académie Française have a web site where I might check whether this is a "real" word? Oh, they do! They provide an online dictionary in collaboration with ATILF (of which I had not known), the "Analyse et traitement informatique de la langue française." Unfortunately, it is not yet "complete" : a query for all words of the category "n. f." (feminine nouns) returns a list of 8162, the last of which is
(8162)*ONGLETTE n. f. XVIe siècle. Diminutif d'ongle.
Petit burin utilisé par les graveurs. Une onglette en fer de lance.

I'll have to come back and check again when they have done the "p". I hope they won't make me Attendre 107 ans !

I looked in Mediadico, online and found confirmation of what I had surmised from the context of its usage, and even translation to English:
[pejorative] infantry, those who go on foot, rank and file.
This designation, used in the context of the composition of feudal armies and the relationship to the "noblesse" distinguishes the noble cavalry from those too poor to own a horse and all the necessary accessories. What progress we have made in modern Western societies: now warriors don't have to buy their own tanks and planes to take to battle.

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