or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, January 19, 2009


Yesterday I was snarling about a misuse of a preposition, and I recalled that I snarled about this very same misuse a week or so prior, but when I went to the blog to look up the reference, I couldn't find it, at which point I remembered that I had had a big old computer hang a few days back which, evidently, killed the piece before I'd had a chance to either save it or publish it on January 8th or the 9th or thereabouts, so now I have to reconstruct it, like a tiny, insignificant version of Carlyle's "French Revolution" (burnt by a servant and rewritten by Carlyle).

Here is a sentence from recent Salon piece by Garrison Keillor:

And we allow the Current Occupant to leave the Mansion d'Blanc with a big grin in a couple of  weeks, his self-esteem apparently fully intact, imagining that his legacy will emerge golden and shining in a hundred years after all of us are deceased.

While I agree with the sentiment, I don't agree with "Maison d'Blanc", which is wrong for four reasons, three grammatical and one stylistic.

First, "blanc" is masculine in form both as a noun and an adjective, but "Maison" is a feminine noun in French, so the adjective it would take must also be feminine; "Blanche".

Second, the preposition "de" is apostrophized into "d'" only in front of a vowel sound: "d'heure", "d'accord".

Third, as I said yesterday, you cannot insert that preposition between a noun and its adjective in Italian or English, and you can't do it in French, either. If you absolutely had to, you could theoretically say "maison de blancheur", "white house", literally "house of whiteness", though you wouldn't, but the part of speech that follows "de/of" has to be a noun.*

Fourth, there's no reason whatever to render "White House" in French, either correctly ("Maison Blanche") or not ("Maison d'Blanc"). It has no bearing on anything in the sentence, the paragraph, or the whole article. It looks pretentious, and when the pretentious is combined with the incorrect, it looks willfully ignorant and therefore shameful. Is Garrison Keillor too famous (possibly) or too good a writer (obviously not) to require an editor? Or are there even any editors at Salon?

* You may object that "house of white" is valid in English. That's because, like all colour names, "white" can function as either a noun--"the colour white"--or an adjective--"having the quality of being white". In the case of "house of white", "white" is acting as a noun meaning "whiteness", in the same way that "blue" in "Five foot two/eyes of blue" actually means "blueness". Since "blanc" is also a noun in French, it follows that "maison de blanc" is a meaningful phrase, and in fact it can be; there's a large department store called "Grande Maison de Blanc" in Paris, with "white" in this case referring not to the colour of the building, but of its contents, originally linens ("whites", as in "white sale", back when all bed-linens were white and some enterprising store owner had the idea of selling them as a loss leader). The Washington White House, however, is unvaryingly "Maison Blanche" to the French.


Blogger Jim (the Canuck One) said...

Hey there. Gotta say I'm not liking "maison de blacheur" either. "De" in the "something having the quality of something else" sense seems very rare in French.

I don't have any books with me but I'd lean toward "maison avec blancheur" or maybe "maison en blancheur" to try and get the "house with whiteness" feeling going.

Monday, January 19, 2009 8:13:00 AM  

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