OT: 'Pied noir' [was: McWhorter on "Negro"]

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jan 17 20:31:11 UTC 2010

By 1963, when I was doing the junior year abroad
thing in France, a pied noir was necessarily
someone  ethnically French who lived in or had
emigrated back from Algeria; I wouldn't have
known whether it mattered whether they themselves
were born in France or Algeria (i.e. whether they
were a first-generation colonist or from a later
generation), but I suppose the "Français né en
Algérie" constraint below is accurate.  The usual
context in which it came up was to designate
those who had left Algeria for (usually) the
south of France and it was I believe always
pejorative.  In those years, there was already a
fear of terrorism by those disaffected by De
Gaulle's policies of giving up the colony and
granting independence to Algeria, and there was
the occasional setting off of "plastique" bombs.
I apparently looked enough like a pied noir (I
was actually given that reason once) to be
stopped and frisked by les flics when I was
hitchhiking through the south of France.


At 11:32 AM -0600 1/17/10, Salikoko Mufwene wrote:
>I just cleaned up the text. Let's hope the whole of it is posted now.
>Wikipedia gives the following etymology for "Pied-Noir":
>>The origin of the term /Pied-noir/ is debated.
>>According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it
>>refers to "a person of European origin living
>>in Algeria during the period of French rule,
>>especially a French person repatriated after
>>Algeria was granted independence in 1962."^
>>The /Le Robert/ dictionary states that in 1901
>>the word indicated a sailor working barefoot in
>>the coal room of a ship, who would find his
>>feet dirtied by the soot. In the Mediterranean,
>>this was often an Algerian native, thus the
>>term was used pejoratively for Algerians until
>>1955 when it first began referring to "French
>>born in Algeria."^
>>This usage originated from mainland French as a
>>negative nickname.^
>>There is also a theory that the term comes from
>>the black boots of French soldiers compared to
>>the barefoot Algerians^
>>. Other theories focus on new settlers dirtying
>>their clothing by working in swampy areas, or
>>trampling grapes to make wine.^
>/Le trésor de la langue française/ gives the
>following etymology, which is in agreement with
>the above:
>>** "matelot chauffeur sur un bateau à charbon"
>>(ds ESN.); 1917 "surnom donné jadis aux
>>Algériens" (/ibid./); 1955 "Français né en
>>Algérie" (/ibid./). Comp. de /pied/* et
>>/noir/*, le surnom viendrait du fait que les
>>chauffeurs des bateaux, souvent algériens,
>>marchaient pieds nus dans la soute à charbon.
>Damien Hall wrote:
>>Robin said he had been '(mis)reading "noir" as if it mapped directly onto
>>English "black"'. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the misunderstanding, but it
>>seems to me as if that _is_ a direct mapping. Algerian-born children of
>>French settlers there, like Camus, were referred to as 'pieds noirs'
>>because they were said to have one 'black foot' - ie a small proportion of
>>their body which had black (in the skin-colour sense) skin - as a result of
>>their having been born to white-skinned parents but in an area where the
>>natives were dark-skinned. It's a while since my undergraduate dissertation
>>on Camus, but I believe the designation 'pieds noirs' was only applied to
>>people born in Algeria, not to their French-born parents as well.
>>How appropriate that this should have come up ten days or so after the
>>fiftieth anniversary of Camus' death!
>>Damien Hall
>>University of York
>>Department of Language and Linguistic Science
>>YO10 5DD
>>Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
>>     (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
>>Fax  +44 (0)1904 432673
>>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>Salikoko S. Mufwene                    s-mufwene at uchicago.edu
>The Frank J. McLoraine Distinguished Service
>Professor of Linguistics and the College
>Professor, Committee on Evolutionary Biology
>University of Chicago                  773-702-8531; FAX 773-834-0924
>Department of Linguistics
>1010 East 59th Street
>Chicago, IL 60637, USA
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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