Friday, 11 December 2020

No sex please, we're French

 On the last Saturday in November (that's  how long I've been worrying at this bit of linguistic gristle) an article in The Times mentioned a reader who had been working away at an anagram for over 3 years. My mail to the Feedback column fell on stony ground, but here it is:

Leigh Carter‘s three-and-a-half year computer-assisted anagram search may have used tools that incorporated the "rule" my French master taught me more than 60 years ago: that cookery words that are based on a name are preceded by an implicit  "à la mode" and are therefore feminine - bourguignonnemayonnaise... and dauphinoise.

However, I have often reflected, as a student of philology, that rules like this are usually the sign of a linguistic change in progress; I discuss a fascinating case here: (about an early Roman Latin master's list of rules proscribing common errors). My most recent dictionary (Concise OED, 2013) lists dauphinois as a headword and relegates dauphinoise to a parenthetical "(also ...)". But Onelook (a web-based finder of dictionary entries) finds only one entry - Oxford's. (In contrast, it finds four - including Oxford's) for dauphinoise.)

 Following the Onelook link I found that, although the headword is dauphinois, most of the examples, have daphinoise. In fact, in the first screenful of examples, there are only two cases of dauphinois to nine of dauphinoise, and all the cases of dauphinoise refer to a manner or mode (both feminine nouns in French) of cooking. So what explains the two cases of dauphinois?

..ois or ...oise?

The answer is suggested by the second example and confirmed by  all four cases of dauphinois in the next screenful  (with dauphinoise still in the majority, but less so: 7 out of 11). Wherever dauphinois occurs it can (mistakenly) be parsed as an adjective qualifying gratin. There are no dates on the examples, but I suspect that these "adjective qualifying gratin" examples predate the first case in my first screenful: dauphinois as an adjective qualifying gratin becomes a justification for dauphinois understood as a free-standing noun.

The second screenful

But this does not apply only to dauphinois, for which Onelook finds only one entry. In the case of bourguignon (which I vainly, and – let's face – it mistakenly) whinged about here:

... (for example bon/bonne, cadet/cadette, Bourgignon/Bourguignonne... 
<mini-rant status="stillborn">
No, I won't but... If people would just pronounce the /n/ when they say Bœuf Bourguignonne.  PLEASE.
... etc.)

The fight in defence of the rectitude of bourguignonne (according to the "B-G rule" [B-G being the French master who taught me it]) has been well and truly lost. Google finds 

About 9,010,000 results for boeuf bourguignon 
but only 
About 311,000 results for boeuf bourguignonne.

And the ...gnon version really has the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Teachers laying down rules are a sure sign that language is on the move.


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