Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Onomatopoeia of the Day: "bataclan"

Among the several targets of the Parisian suicide/killer commandos (Arabic inghimâsiyûn, French kamikazes), the one with the highest casualties was the Bataclan music-hall.   One shred of civilization that we may harvest from the catastrophe, is an explanation of the term.

Bataclan is like the synonymous American shebang or kit and caboodle -- scarcely used outside an idiom (“the whole shebang” / “tout le bataclan”).  Bordas defines the word as “attirail hétéroclite et encombrant”, and compares (one sense of) the word bastringue.   The two sense-components are:  (1) heterogeneous , and (2) comprehensive.  In the former sense, note the idiom inventaire à la Prévert, for a “shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax” sort of list -- that very example (from the 19th-century writer Lewis Carroll) proving that the French poet did not initiate the genre.  In the latter sense, we enjoy the idiom tout le toutime.   Put ‘em together, and you’ve got a bataclan.


As for etymology:  It doesn’t really have one, in the proper sense -- nothing that slipped from the lips of Livy will give you a clue to it.  It’s a sort of onomatopeia connoting vigorous confusion:  an anapest with vocalism a - a - a.   Here bata- is a sort of variant of the more popular pata-.  As:  patatras ‘crash!  ka-boom!’; and patata, in et patati et patata ‘yadda yadda yadda’.  You might call out “Patatras!” when someone fait patapouf (comes a cropper).   If someone screws up linguistically rather than kinesthetically, il fait un pataquès .  (In that last, the -s is pronounced;  the word is delocutive in origin, alluding to a tournure populaire involving a faute de liaison :  Je ne sais pas-t-à  qu’est-ce ‘I don’t know whose it is’.)  Wittily, this cranpheme pata-  (cranpheme © WDJ Enterprises, All Rights Reserved, y compris en URSS) has been used to confect that choice vocable, pataphysique, whereof we have often had occasion to avail ourselves.
Cf. further here:


Finally, an attestation of the term  from a joual-speaking family in Maine, ca. 1967, recounted to me the other day by a colleague.   One day, when she was just seven years old, she was sprawling about in a tomboyish way, which fit ill with her knee-skirt attire.  Her grandmother admonished:  Tu es bataclan!  Tout à l’air!”  Which is to say:  the fillette thereby afforded a glimpse (to any hypothetical passing gentlemen) of what Gigi (in similar circs) referred to as her ce-que-je-pense, for which she was likewise admonished by her grandmother.  (Tout here meaning ce strictement-rien qui est pourtant le grand (ou minime) secret de l’Ewig-weibliche.)

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That style of etymologizing, admitting (for some explicanda) multiple-parentage and a role for “playfulness”, was characteristic of our dear teacher Yakov Malkiel, who taught Romance Philology at Berkeley.  It contrasted with the earlier, earnest, Junggrammatiker-influenced approach, of seeking elaborate (unattested) Vulgar-Latin origins, or (equally unattested) Celtic or Thracian or what-have-you substrata.   For the pioneers, outside the stately structure of classical philology  lay a vacuum;  but it is a creative vacuum, like quantum foam.

[Note:  I wanted to post a photo of the man;  but the Web has become so crowded, it has crowded him out.  An image-search on even
      => yakov malkiel "romance philology" berkeley
brought up a host of unrelated images, but none of the etymologist.]

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