or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, August 25, 2006


Today at work a question plagued me:

How can "chauffeur" possibly mean "driver"?

I was wondering this because on the iPod on the way to work was the strange and beguiling Duran Duran song "The Chauffeur". Yes, I know: they're a soulless eighties band and their lead singer sounded like he was in the process of being turned into a castrato. But that song! It's entirely amazing. It starts off as a skeleton of a song, just spiky synthesized percussion, and when the singing starts it just doesn't match the music at all--you can imagine its being sung to a really romantic overproduced pop song. And then more and more instruments invade the austere aural space, and it's like hearing a song being assembled inside your brain. You should really listen to it here, and you might as well watch the arty, cheesy German-softcore video while you're at it.

"Chauffer" is the French word for "to heat", so a chauffeur must be a heater, right? And, in fact, that is one of its meanings in French. It's also, at one remove, one of its meanings in English: a chafing dish is something used to heat or reheat food, and "chafe", in all its senses (including the chafing which happens to your skin), comes from "chauffer", which in turn comes from Latin "calefacere", "to heat up": "calere", "to be hot" (as in "calorie" and also "cauldron"), plus "facere", "to make" (as in "manufacture").

So how can a chauffeur be a driver? Because a chauffeur was once someone who stoked a hot, smoky engine, that's how. You can't tell me you're not a better person for knowing such things.


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