Dentifrice (was: "Commercial" words - was: plural people)

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Apr 28 03:02:59 UTC 2006

In that case, llet the final word be, "different strokes ..." ;-)


On 4/27/06, Baker, John <JMB at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Dentifrice (was: "Commercial" words - was: plural
> people)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>         I guess I should have included more detail in my message,
> especially since I was commenting on a message from a different thread.
> In an earlier issue, The New Yorker ran an article about absinthe, the
> long-outlawed liqueur that is associated with fin de siecle Parisian
> artists.  It then ran a letter in response to the article.  The letter
> recounted the writer's experience, in France in years past, of going to
> a pharmacist and asking for "dentifrice," which the letter helpfully
> translated as "(toothpaste)."  Instead of providing toothpaste, however,
> the pharmacist would give a packet of herbs that could be used to make
> absinthe.  The letter did not explain how the pharmacist knew to give
> the packet of herbs, and not toothpaste.
>         Wilson Gray then posted to ADS-L a complaint that "the writer
> assumes that _dentifrice_ is a foreign - in this case, French - term
> that needs to be translated for the average TNY reader."  Of course,
> dentifrice, as used in the letter, is indeed a French word, though there
> happens to be an English word with a slightly different pronunciation
> but the same spelling and a similar meaning.  In ordinary use, it would
> probably be unnecessary to provide a translation for "dentifrice," just
> as it would be unnecessary to provide English translations for the
> French words "oui," "non," and "table."  In context, however, I suggest
> that providing a translation was not inappropriate.
> John Baker
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of James Smith
> Sent: Thursday, April 27, 2006 10:03 AM
> Subject: Re: Dentifrice (was: "Commercial" words - was: plural people)
> I've pondered on this a bit, and frankly - I don't understand the
> problem; what am I missing here?
> (Pate) dentifrice in french = toothpaste or dentifrice in english; why
> would anyone be disturbed by this translation?  Was there something more
> in the New Yorker story that gave this a twist?  What would absinthe
> have to do with teeth, and what on earth is a do-it-yourself absinthe
> kit, anyway?  Did the pharmacist just completely misundertstand the
> request?
> --- "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:
> ...
> >
> >         And, since we've picked it up in this
> > thread:  I'm not so sure
> > that I'm disturbed by The New Yorker's translation of "dentifrice" as
> > "toothpaste."  The writer was, after all, translating a French word,
> > albeit one whose meaning in English is approximately the same as that
> > of the English word with the same spelling.  Since the pharmacist
> > responded to the request for a dentifrice by providing a sort of
> > do-it-yourself absinthe kit, it seems reasonable for the writer to
> > clarify that he was, nominally, asking for toothpaste.
> >
> > John Baker
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