Sunday, January 24, 2016

Petit Chose

I have often wondered why Madame's chateau in Breton Holiday is called Petit Chose. In French, the word chose is feminine, so the adjective should be petite rather than petit. Surely Jane Shaw, the perfectionist, would not make a mistake like that. Nor would Collins' highly trained proofreaders have let it go unquestioned. But over the years, having studied many Latin-based languages, I've learned that languages have many nuances. In Portuguese, for example, there are words that are both masculine and feminine but with different meanings for each gender. Let's take the word cara.

um cara = a guy, man
uma cara = a face

Could it be that the word chose in French has a masculine form or meaning that most foreign students are unaware of? I set out to discover, with a Google search for "le petit chose". The answer appeared at once. Le Petit Chose is the title of the autobiography of French author Alphonse Daudet, written in 1868, covering the early years of his life. Petit Chose was his nickname. When the book was translated into English, it was given the title Little Good-for-Nothing (1878 edition) and Little What's-His-Name (1898 edition). The book made quite an impact on French culture. Many years later, in 1938, it was made into a movie, just at the time when Jane Shaw was writing Breton Holiday. As far as I know, there is no way of telling whether it was the book or the movie that inspired the author to name the chateau Petit Chose, but the mystery of the masculine adjective for a feminine word has now been cleared up.