OED clusters

Today’s “word of the day” from the OED was “femme incomprise”. The list of nearby words contains:

  • femme (first quote 1814, from a letter of Byron)
  • femme de chambre (first quote 1741)
  • femme de ménage (first quote 1826)
  • femme du monde (first quote 1849)
  • femme fatale (first quote 1879; one wouldn’t guess that this is taken from an article in that well-known journal of cosmopolitan sophisticates, the St Louis Globe Democrat)
  • femme incomprise (first quote 1841)

I wonder if there is a bigger cluster of foreign words with a common root?

The other one I know and like, though it is not in strictly alphabetic order, is also quite impressive:

  • simpatico, simpatica (first quote 1864, “The Frau Professorin was less ‘simpatica’”, from the memoir of a certain H. Sidgwick)
  • sympathique (first quote 1859, in a letter of Queen Victoria, “The sight of a professor or learned man alarms me, and is not sympathique to me”)
  • sympathisch (first quote 1911)


Jules Verne, précurseur de Zazie?

There is undeniably a certain form a humor in the books of Jules Verne, but of a rather inoffensive kind, and the distracted geograph Paganel would probably be dismissed rather curtly by such a lively girl as Queneau’s Zazie. Nevertheless, while re-reading Les enfants de Capitaine Grant, I found a magnificent sentence that, I think, even Zazie would approve:

Les petits garçons et les petites filles, plus rageuses surtout, s’administraient des taloches superbes avec un entrain féroce.
(Les enfants du Capitaine Grant, 2ème partie, Chapitre XVI)

This is basically untranslatable; the literal meaning is something like

The boys and girls, even fiercer, exchanged superb blows with extreme alacrity.

but English words fail me to convey the finer meaning of taloche

And I was reading this book because, believe it or not, Jules Verne is now a Pléiade author! Of course, grudgingly, since only four of his novels were deemed worthy of this supreme honor of French letters. In addition to Les enfants…, we have 20000 lieues sous les mers and L’île mystérieuse, a trilogy, and Le sphinx des glaces, but obviously some strong reactionary faction must have resisted any attempt in adding De la terre à la lune, or Kéraban le Têtu, or Hector Servadac, or…

I also had not realized before the embarrassing chronological problems of the trilogy: Les enfants… happens in 1864–1865; 20000 lieux… begins in 1866; but then L’île mystérieuse, which is supposed to take place twelve years after the first part, begins in 1865…

What is the French for “derandomization”?

Well, in fact, it should be nothing else than dérandomisation. En effet, the Grand Robert tells us that randomisation was introduced in French by a person named Piéron in 1957, from the English, but adds that this word comes from the same old-French root randon which led to “random”, and (in French) to randonnéee (meaning a walk, usually a long country or mountain walk). Following to the etymology of randonnée, we read:

XIIe; du v. randonner (XIIe; – 1. Randonner) tiré des expressions à randon, de randon «avec impétuosité, violence» (randon au sens de «mouvement impétueux» est encore chez La Fontaine), de l’anc. franç. randir «courir avec impétuosité», du francique *rant (Wartburg) ou d’un comp. en re- de l’anc. franç. ander, du bas lat. *ambitare «courir» (Guiraud).

the beginning of which translates to

12th Century; from the verb. randonner (12th Century, see Randonner) coming from the expressions à randon, de randon, meaning “impetuously, violently” (randon in the sense of “impetuous movement” is still in La Fontaine), ….

This is of course confirmed by the O.E.D.

Random CIRM happenings

I was last week at the conference on “Number theory and its applications” which was excellently organized by C. Delaunay and F.X. Roblot at the CIRM conference center, close to Marseille. Although I don’t have last year’s excuse at the end of the Joint Math Meetings, my remarks will be just as incoherent…

  • M. Watkins showed a book he recently bought in the Canary Islands, which proves that G. Perelman is on his way to becoming a pop-culture figure:

    A cursory look at the content (though not by native Spanish speakers!) does not seem to suggest that this a serious work of mathematical scholarship…
  • For the future writer of the definitive history of analytic number theory, I offer this remark from É. Fouvry, who said one could quote him:

    … et Chebychev arrive avec une astuce de voleur de mobylette… (…and then Chebychev comes around with a trick worthy of a bicycle thief)

  • Charles Boyd, an enterprising soul worthy of homeric epithets, has ported Pari/GP to android

    The package can be downloaded here. There’s something confortable in having your phone factor the 8-th Fermat number during a post-dinner round-wine discussion… One may object that, at the moment, any syntax error causes the program to exit unceremoniously, but certainly this will soon improve. (Note: the broken screen was not caused by Paridroid…)

La dure loi du sport (or, one point one way, one point another way)

The world cup of the world’s greatest team sport has just ended with the final victory of the New Zealand team against the XV de France. Although it is somewhat bitter to fail for the third time in the final, all partisans of the French artistry on the field (where viril, mais correct is but one of the noble guiding principles) recognize that a victory — and it was rather close! — would have been undeserved. Indeed, the French qualified for the final only after a rather lucky win against a brilliant Welsh team in the semi-final. After fighting more than an hour with one man less, the Welsh barely lost by one point (9 to 8, and more importantly, without the French scoring a single try). I feel that the French’s loss by the same point (7 to 8) is fair. Their tremendous fighting spirit shows that their presence here today was not, in fact, entirely undeserved, but a win would have left a sour taste in my mouth. Let’s hope that in four years, they will (for once…) actually play throughout the tournament with the same intensity. And then let the best team win…