French Words - Le Mot Juste

French words and expressions in Wodehouse - A lexicographical inventory

Hundreds of French words and phrases are scattered throughout the works of P.G. Wodehouse. 'Hundreds' is an approximate term, because hitherto no attempt has been made to establish a complete list, a Wodehousian French-English dictionary. This will change, with the help of all Wodehousians who will, when reading, make a note of French words that they come across, and share their notes with Ken Clevenger (US) and Ole van Luyn (NL) who intend to use existing networks to encourage Wodehouse lovers worldwide to participate in this venture.
This webpage is a dedicated page and the repository of all those French words, so that one and all may access it, either to find the meaning of a specific words or for scholarly research into the phenomenon of Wodehouse's use of French. The intended inventory is strictly alphabetical, on the basis of the French expressions (in full) and words as found in the text. Thus, for example, we will find En secondes noces, Noblesse oblige, Tout ce qu'il y a de chic and Vis-à-vis (taken at random from Right Ho, Jeeves chapt. 2 and 4) in that order, even though a traditional dictionary might list the first one as Noces, secondes, en and the third one as Chic, tout ce qu'il y a de. Although this might worry the average lexicographer, the intention is not to publish a dictionary proper but to provide a tool for those of us whose knowledge of the French language is more limited than Wodehouse's, as a reader's aid. In this context it may be noted that French words such as pince-nez and lieu that have become accepted in the English language as used in the UK and/or in the USA (and are found in dictionaries) may be taken up in the Inventory if they are not in everyday usage, as judged by the initiators.

Contributors are asked to be precise in communicating book or short story title. Title abbreviations will be based on the abbreviations codes in Garrison & Midkiff: Who is Who in Wodehouse, 3rd (expanded) edition. The initiators express their grateful thanks to those two outstanding Wodehousians for their kind permission to use those useful codes. It is the intention of the initiators that the Lexicographical Inventory will not be considered as their intellectual property but that it will be in the public domain.

Those located in North America are invited to send the French words and expressions they found to Ken Clevenger and others to Ole van Luyn. However, all will find their way to Ken and Ole, who will act as editors to the Inventory.

May 2021

Lexicographical inventory

In the following lexicographical inventory each word and expression is followed by a translation and by a code. The code is based upon Garrison & Midkiff as mentioned above, and consists of two letters and a two digit date that indicate the novel or date digits and two letters for a short story title, an oblique stroke and a number, which is the number of the chapter in which it is found. In some works the chapters are divided into numbered sections; if there is a hyphen and a number this will indicate the section within the chapter.
For finding out more about coding and about Who is Who in Wodehouse, you may want to go the website Madame Eulalie.

Affaire: term for 'something a person does' which has many meanings and thus may be translated into different English words. Here 'the business with' would fit best [AS22/4, LC21/13]
Aplomb: an attitude that conveys self confidence [PB69/8-1]
À propos: usually followed by a word or several words, meaning 'concerning…' or 'speaking of…' However, the expression 'à propos des bottes' (which should be 'de bottes') means something like 'unrelated to anything else' [LC21/12]
À quoi sert-il?: what's the use? [RH34/23]
Argot: slang, thieves' lingo, now mostly antiquated [RH34/7]
Au pied de la lettre: literally [RH34/13, RH34/15, SS61/1-1, SS61/5-1]
Bal Bullier: while the word bal in French means a ball, a dancing event, it may also mean (as it does here) a dance-hall or ballroom. The eponymous ballroom was established in mid-19th century by François Bullier [GB65/6-1]
Bien être: usually spelt bien-être, a pleasant feeling, due to the absence of physical and psychological pressure or tensions [BW52/11]
Blase: properly spelt blasé, uninterested, tired of pleasurable things [PH02/14]
Blessée: wounded, hurt (referring to a female person) [AS22/2-3]
Bon soir: good evening, usually bonsoir, in one word [AS22/2-4]
Bottes: boots. However, in LC21/12 it is used as part of a French expression. See also À propos [LC21/12]
Boudoir: an elegant – and rather private - ladies' room [PB69/8-1, PB69/8-2]
Boule: in the context of 'a mild game' and in the plural, boules or jeu de boules, is possibly related to bowls [AS22/3-1]
Boulevardier: a dapper person strolling along the boulevards [RH34/22]
Boum!: same as 'boom!', as it is spelt in French, but in the AS22 context probably the waiter's attempt to say 'bon' in 'the Anglo-Gallic dialect of the travelling Briton' [AS22/3-3]
Ce n'est pas le diable: it is not totally awful [TSA14Notes, essay]
C'est terrible: it is very bad [TSA14Notes, essay]
Chef: a professional cook in restaurant or hotel [RH34/8]
Chef d'oeuvre: masterpiece [TSA 13WO]
Chic: as a noun meaning elegance, character, originality and as an adjective meaning dressed with elegance and good taste [19SF]
Collaborateurs: colleagues, co-workers [GB04/8]
Conte: story, tale, narration [RH34/17]
Coriace: hard as leather, rugged. In view of the very slight semantic difference with dur (q.v.) Wodehouse, in the quote, humorously refers to Gustave Flaubert (see Mot juste, below) [GB65/3-1]
Coup de grace: the last word should be spelt grâce. It is a deadly blow or stroke, often applied to end someone's (or some animal's) sufferings [PU03/11]
Critique: a critical analysis or evaluation [RH34/13-15]
Cul-de-sac: dead-end street [GB65/3-1]
Depôt: correctly spelt dépôt, in this context a dumping ground [HK04/12]
De rigueur: according to strict etiquette, obligatory [RH34/2]
Déshabillé: loose and light informal clothes [HK04/7]
Dilettante: someone who may try something but has not got the training for it [TSA15Talking about Cricket essay]
Dur: hard, tough, hard-boiled (as said of a person) [GB65/3-1]
Éclat: with a shining, brilliant or even showy performance [LC21/11]
Edition de luxe: the protagonist has written an ode which he copied 'in his best handwriting', thus producing 'a sort of edition de luxe'. An édtion de luxe usually is a beautifully bound book, often a classic [TSA 01PP]
Elan: correctly spelt élan, an amalgam of speed, enthusiasm and ardour [PB69/8-1]
En casserole: in a casserole, which is a metal pan with a handle [GB65/8-3]
En déshabillé: in loose, informal clothing [RH34/22]
En masse: in great quantities, as one body [PH02/3]
En route: on his or her way [AS22/3-1, GB65/7-4]
En secondes noces: in a second marriage [RH34/4]
Entente cordiale: literally a warm and friendly mutual understanding, and thus also the usual term for the 1904 French-British treaty [GB04/24, LC21/11]
Entrechat: in ballet, a high leap during which the legs rapidly cross [PB69/7-3]
Epatant: correctly spelt épatant, brilliant, amazing [AS22/3-1]
Faute de mieux: without a better option [RH34/9]
Femme fatale : a woman who gives one the impression that her actions, or contact with her, may have dire consequences [BW52/11]
Fracas: loud and riotous noise [GB04/24]
Frisson: a shiver or chill – often metaphorical [RH34/20]
Hauteur: literally a height, but in this context an attitude of arrogance [PH02/3]
Haut Monde: literally 'the high world', i.e. the higher and wealthier levels of society [GB65/3-1]
Hurluberlu: a bizarre idiot [RH39/20]
Idée fixe: an idea that dominates the mind, that seems unchangeable [RH34/12]
Indubitably le diable: in the given context one would translate 'without any doubt the devil' but here 'the diable' means 'diabolical' [TSA14Notes, essay]
Insouciance: carelessness, a state of being unconcerned [TSA15Talking about Cricket essay]
Je-ne-sais-quoi: literally 'I don't know what', meaning: something that one cannot define or describe, but about which one is certain, such as 'a certain something' [PU03/1, 19SF, TSA15Talking about Cricket essay]
J'espère que vous n'êtes pas blessée: I hope that you aren't hurt [AS22/2-3]
Jeu de mots: play on words, pun [HK04/15]
Joie de vivre: pleasure of life, of being alive [WF07/1]
Lentement: slowly [AS22/2-3]
Maître: used to address a highly competent and wise person who may be in a position to teach, to instruct others who aspire to learn and to grow in knowledge [BW52/21]
Malgré lui: in spite of himself, whereas he really did not want to [GB04/13]
Marmiton de Domange: night soil man, sewer cleaner (argot) [RH34/20]
Morceaux: plural of morceau, which is a piece or a bit from a larger item, primarily from something edible, but also used in other contexts. Here the text refers to pieces of music, which is still within the French idiom [GB65/9-3]
Motif: main subject or idea in a work of art [RH34/11]
Mot juste: the right word or phrase in the right place, a term coined by Gustave Flaubert, the author of Madame Bovary [BW52/2, PB69/8-1, RH34/17]
Mousse: a creamy, frothy dessert [RH34/6]
Noblesse oblige: being a person of noble birth entails honourable behaviour [RH34/4]
Nom d'un nom d'un nom: a rather fruity equivalent of "Damn!", derived from "Nom de Dieu!" [RH34/20]
Pas seul: this could mean 'not alone', but in the SS61 context this is 'pas' in de ballet vocabulary of 'step', hence a dance figure – as the singular of a 'pas de deux' [SS61/12-1]
Pas seuls: plural of Pas seul, above [PB69/7-3]
Pas si vite: not so fast [AS22/2-3]
Pension: boarding house, guesthouse [AS22/2-4]
Perdu: lost [AS22/2-5]
Pignouf: an uncouth person, an oik (argot) [RH34/20]
Pince-nez: eyeglasses with a spring to clip the nose [PB69/1-1, PB69/7-3]
Pique: the sentiment of one's feelings being somewhat hurt due to someone else's unfriendly remark or action [BW52/1]
Plage: beach, also to be translated as 'on sea' , e.g. in a name of a town such as Roville plage [AS22/2-1]
Point d'appui: fulcrum, bearing point, base. Wodehouse uses the term approximately to mean 'where it all started', or, as he puts it: the 'inception if inception is the word I want' [RH34/1]
Pot-pourri: a mixture of bits and pieces, a stew or a hotch-potch, but also a mixture of fragrant dried flowers – which is the meaning of the word here [PB69/7-3]
Pourparlers: negotiations, discussions [BW52/20, GB65/10-2, RH34/11, SS61/5-2]
Purée: fruit etc. mashed to a thick mass or sauce [RH34/21]
Rapport: positive relationship, affinity [GB65/2-1]
Rencontres: meetings [WF07/6]
Repertoire: correctly spelt répertoire, in this context the totality of all works and roles that a actor has played and for which she or he may be famous [BW52/21]
Réveille: bugle wake-up signal in military or scouting camps [HK04/6 & 8]
Rogommier: should probably be rogonnier, a grumbler [RH34/22]
Rôle: theatrical role [HK04/1]
Rosbif: Roast beef, pronounced the French way. 'Les rosbifs' is a colloquial way the French may refer to the English like the British might use 'Frogs' for the French [AS22/3-3]
Roustisseur: beggar, thief (argot) [RH34/20]
Salle de bain: bathroom, not (as in the US) a toilet, but a room with a bath or shower [RH34/9]
Sang-froid: literally 'cold blood', meaning self-control, calm, or even with some lack of feeling [PU03/6, PU03/12]
Sauve qui peut: the equivalent of 'every man for himself; in the context a throng of people all pushing to be first [LC21/3]
Smoking: used in France and many European countries for a dinner jacket (UK) or tuxedo (US) [RH34/9]
Tête-à-tête: private conversation between two persons [AS22/3-1, PH02/13, RH34/19]
Tout ce qu'il y a de chic: the last word in chic (see chic, above) [RH34/1, RH34/2]
Vis-à-vis: face to face, facing each other [RH34/4]
V'la!: correctly spelt voilà! a one-syllable pronunciation of same, meaning: There!, Look! Done! Without the exclamation mark voilà means 'look there' or 'see' [AS22/2-4, AS22/3-3]
Voila comme des accidents arrivent: that is how accidents happen. Voila should be spelt Voilà. See also V'la! [PH02/5]
Volte-face: literally best translated as 'turn-around' it may be used for a total change of opinion or attitude [BW 52/13]
Zut!: an all-purpose interjection, usually with the exclamation mark, meaning Blast! or Drat! [AS22/2-4]

AS22: The Adventures of Sally
BW52: Barmy in Wonderland
GB04: The Gold Bat
GB65: Galahad at Blandings
HK04: The Head of Kay's
LC21: Love among the Chickens
PB69: A Pelican at Blandings
PH02: The Pothunters
PU03: A Prefect's Uncle
RH34: Right Ho, Jeeves
19SF: The Spring Suit
SB77: Sunset at Blandings
SS61: Service with a Smile
TSA: Tales fo St.Austin's (numbering according to index plus titles' initials)
WF07: The White Feather

The Adventures of Sally (1922)Barmy in Wonderland (1952)The Gold Bat (1904)Galahad at Blandings (1965)The Head of Kay's (1904)Love among the Chickens (1921)A Pelican at Blandings (1969)The Pothunters (1902)A Prefect's Uncle (1903)Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)The Spring Suit (1919)Sunset at Blandings (1977)Service with a Smile (1961)Tales of St. Austin's (1903)The White Feather (1907)