Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Word Of The Week


Just about every first year French student can tell you that feu means "fire." It comes from the Latin focus for fireplace or hearth. This noun is used in many ways in French. Fire is the primary meaning, of course. Here are a few more :

The running lights on a vehicle like a car or boat are referred to as les feux. You will often see a sign before entering a tunnel that says, "Allumez vos feux," "Turn on your lights."

If someone walks up to you in the street and asks, "Vous avez du feu ?" he's asking you for a light for his cigarette.

The word can be used to refer to the temperature of the burner (originally flame) on your stove. "Cuire au feu doux, moyen, ou vif," means "Cook on low, medium, or high heat."

It can refer to the fireplace or hearth, as in "un hameau de huit feux." A hamlet of eight homes (home is where the hearth is...).

As in English, one can open fire with a gun, "ouvrir le feu !" or be under fire, "sous le feu," or cease fire, "cessez le feu."

All that is well and good, but the use of the word as an adjective is what this week's post is all about. I was reading about the history of a château the other day when I came across this sentence : "Ancienne propriété de feu M. Armand Roux." I wondered, what is a fire property ?

I quickly learned that feu M. Armand Roux means the late Mr. Armand Roux. The dictionary says this word, used as an adjective, comes from a different Latin root than the word for fire. In this case, it's fatum or fate, which is where we get the English fatal.

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