or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Edge of Reason

And now, an object lesson in how easily a smarty-pants can be led astray in other languages, cleverly disguised as a story about our trip. Won't that be nice?

While we were staying in Ottawa, our friend Trish (who, being intelligent, funny, generous, good, and attractive, somehow managed to acquire or attain all the attributes of a really top-notch human being) invited us out to dinner at a little place she'd heard about but never eaten at. It was a bit of a hike, being outside of Hull, Quebec (across the river from Ottawa), but we managed to find the place, no thanks to me, whose skills as a driver are only marginally better than his skills as a navigator: Trish drove (standard!) and Jim navigated using two maps, one hand-drawn (not by him).

The name of the restaurant was L'Orée du Bois, and as we were waiting to be seated, we naturally speculated on the meaning of the first word, which none of us, though we were all at least conversant in French, had ever heard. Since the restaurant's motif was a wind-whipped tree with golden leaves, and since the French word for "gold" is "or", we decided that "orée" must somehow mean "golden", since "-ée" is a suffix that can denote an adjective.

We also knew that the usual French word for "golden" or "gilded" is "dorée", so "orée"-equals-"gold" makes a degree of sense. What doesn't make sense is the rest of the name: "du bois" means "of the woods". But it was the best we could come up with, and it seemed not unreasonable. We meant to ask the young woman who seated us, but didn't get the chance; the joint was pretty busy.

Naturally, I had to know, because I have to know everything, so the next morning I logged onto the Internet using the hotel's terminal--$10 an hour!--and discovered that, in fact, we had been completely wrong, and "orée" is a noun (as it ought to be, coming before the phrasal adjective "du bois"), the whole phrase meaning "the edge of the woods", a perfect description of the place. (The place is nestled in the woods, just off a road, and even the view from the bathroom window is gloriously sylvan.)

"Dorée" is an adjective because "d'or" is also an adjective, meaning "of gold". "Or" means "gold" because the Latin word for gold is "aurum", which is why the chemical symbol for gold is "Au". (You probably already know all of this, but, you know, just in case.) English "gold", on the other hand, is from a constellation of words in various languages, mostly Germanic, meaning "yellow" or "gold".

If you're ever in the neighbourhood, you really have to check out this lovely restaurant. (They didn't pay me to say that--as if!) The food was very good (I'd never eaten either deer or quail before, and now I have, and thoroughly enjoyed them), the service attentive without being obtrusive, the waiter extremely cute. Here's their website, golden leaves and all. Make reservations.


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