Increase your vocabulary by learning new words freshly borrowed into English from foreign languages like French.
At the Wording Desk
Refoulement & Repechage
2 English words borrowed from French
A lazy reader may pass over, but can never then conquer and possess, an unfamiliar word. I have kept my vocabulary green and luxuriant by NEVER letting a word go by, which I cannot define. Does this make me a bit of a bore at festivities? Certainly. I have brought many a party to a standstill by merely asking, “Does anyone here know what a Sunda Colugo is?” As partygoers edge furtively toward the exits, I perceive that I may have transgressed their IIL (Intrinsic Interest Limit).
Recently, the obscene genocides in Syria fomented by the loathsome Russian dwarf Putin and his Syrian fellow ogre Assad have caused history-altering surges of refugees to flee to Europe. A word used in reports of these mass migrations is refoulement, now an English word but, by its nounal form, a term clearly borrowed from French.
Refoulement is the forced return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution. It is an international crime, illegal and prohibited in most agreements between countries ─ not of course in iniquitous fens of dictatorship like Russia and Syria.
The immediate source is the French verb refouler ‘to force back, to cause to flow back,’ a verb first used in 12th-century Old French to refer to the sea and to water. The French verb fouler means ‘to tread, to trample, to press.’ It is the same root as the English verb in cloth manufacture to full meaning ‘to tread cloth in order to clean and thicken it.' This gives its agent noun fuller and one of the most common occupational surnames in English.
A key facet of refugee law is non-refoulement, the generic repatriation of people, sending refugees back into war zones and other disastrous locales, a horror advocated only by selfish persons who have never fled for their lives.
I heard this term during an Olympic sports report and in the Tour de France bike races this past summer. Its literal meaning is “being allowed to fish again” from the French verb pêcher ‘to fish.’ In its earliest use, repêchage meant ‘a second chance,’ for example, allowing a student candidate who had failed an examination to take the test a second time. In sports that feature serial competition, repêchage allows athletes who don’t meet qualifying standards by a tiny margin to nevertheless compete in the next round.
This word is not merely rare. I admit repêchage is le mot recherché, uncommon to the point of pretentiousness. But, mes enfants, why else am I here, if not to foist upon innocent readers the most obscure word-mosses scraped from oblivion’s grotto?
Readers, be bold enough to use such newly met words. Take heart from one of my favorite little versicles. It is a translation of a Horatian ode originally in Latin, rendered into English by the seventeenth-century British poet John Dryden and then slightly revised by Henry Fielding in his novel Tom Jones.
“Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within himself, can say,
Tomorrow be damned! For I have lived today.”
To which I add this bit: And used the words I chose to use, not words approved by stale custom, by illiterate yahoos or by fascist schoolmarms of both sexes.
Bill Casselman, October 16, 2-16
Copyright William Gordon Casselman 2016
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