Miss Harriet, Maupassant, and le break

“Nous étions sept dans le break, quatre femmes et trois hommes…”

The short story, Miss Harriet, was written in 1883 by Guy de Maupassant. In the very first sentence is the word le break – meaning horse-drawn carriage. Nowadays it means a station wagon and when I learned this, I just assumed it was an annoying recent borrowing from English that really made no sense. What does break have to do with a car?

But then I read Miss Harriet and discovered what the word break originally meant in French. The first meaning of un break was a small cart for training horses, and then later it meant a horse-drawn carriage, after the original break was modified to transport people and goods by extending the length and adding seats.

So what does break have to do with horses? In equestrian vocabulary, rompre or dresser are the verbs used for to train horses or to break in horses, and so the latter was borrowed from English. Then when carriages went out of use, the meaning was transferred to the station wagon, probably because of its length and large capacity for transporting people and goods.  And there you have it. Break = training horses, carriages and station wagons.

I’ve never learned so much from one sentence.

P.S. un break is called une familiale in Quebec. Much more self-explanatory, hein ?

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  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com/ David

    I see you have interesting readings.
    Thumbs Up.

    Davids last blog post..Mystery Solved?

  • http://davidsswamp.blogspot.com David

    I see you have interesting readings.
    Thumbs Up.

    Davids last blog post..Mystery Solved?

  • http://twentyeighthofmay.wordpress.com/ Sally

    Very interesting!

    Sallys last blog post..Hello again

  • http://twentyeighthofmay.wordpress.com Sally

    Very interesting!

    Sallys last blog post..Hello again

  • http://blondeinfrance.blogspot.com/ Andromeda

    Interesting to see that the borrowing of English words goes back so far! Though I asked Ben what “un break” is, and he said “Break dancing!” lol.

    Andromedas last blog post..Basel Carnival

  • http://blondeinfrance.blogspot.com Andromeda

    Interesting to see that the borrowing of English words goes back so far! Though I asked Ben what “un break” is, and he said “Break dancing!” lol.

    Andromedas last blog post..Basel Carnival

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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