View Full Version : FRENCH needed

12-26-2006, 04:51 PM
Hello I've got a question. I believe I know the answer but my editor and I are at odds on a point of usage.
I'm writing a contemporary novel. My M/C , an American, is "the lord" of a huge estate complete with château in (where else France). His tenants and the locals refer to him has le seigneur---no caps. My editor insists that since this is a title (albeit traditional rather than hereditary) it should be Le Seigneur.
Now I know that in Spain for example, El Signor, translates into The Lord, as in God or Jesus. Mercifully the Spanish have the phrase Don. In Holland I could use patroon, or in Italy he could be il patron, but as it is my guy is in France and I can find no word analogous to Don, patroon or patron that suits his station as owner and lord of the manor. Bablefish was not helpful.
So boys and girls, am I correct in keeping the title lower case or should it remain upper case? I await literally on pins if not needles.

As they say in France, Mercy Buttercups,

12-26-2006, 05:14 PM
I'm no expert but I think when it's used as a title (Seigneur MacAllister) it should be capitalized, when it just used to refer to the position it would be lowercase (" . . . he was the seigneur of Mont Python . . ."). I'm not at all sure what you should do about the "Le" part if you use it as part of the title, I would probably guess lowercase, but I don't know.

12-26-2006, 06:21 PM
My French is a little rusty, but from what I remember, it would be correct to call your protag simply 'Seigneur' without the 'Le' (which would indeed send the reader to 'The Lord', and not just 'A Lord').

There are alternatives to 'seigneur' (unless you're attached to the term), which would help you avoid the confusion: maitre, patron, monsieur -- these terms seem to me more plausible when it comes to being used by his subjects -- but then again, maybe we'll be hearing from a real expert to sort this out.

Good luck with the book!

12-26-2006, 09:22 PM
Some suggestions:
Le Maitre (the master)
Sire might work as well, I think it came into English from French.


12-26-2006, 10:50 PM
Hi Citymouse, I mean Bonjour,

In Canada we take french as a our second language in public school. My vote would be for the upper case being correct, but you need to find someone bilingual to answer this question for you.

Bonne Chance!


12-27-2006, 12:01 AM
You're writing in English; English capitalization rules apply, and the Chicago Manual of Style concurs. Uppercase S.

12-27-2006, 12:44 AM
You're writing in English; English capitalization rules apply, and the Chicago Manual of Style concurs. Uppercase S.

M, CMS (my vade mecum regarding all things English) is where I got the upper case rule the first time I wrote it.
Then as I read Robert Hofler's biography of Henry Willson, The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, I came across this line. "Henry finally got to play on the inside of the studio's feudal walls--and with the seigneur himself."

My version of CMS advises that foreign words not usually used in English should be italicized. Well I did that with other words, however, I also want to be true to the tradition of this particular phrase.
As in "... No! I will tell Le Seigneur when he arrives. You must nothing until he speaks with you!"

That started me thinking---CMS notwithstanding, so I asked my editor who ruminated for a few days and returned with the uppercase decision. I accepted it at the time but as I noted before, using uppercase for that particular phrase, at least in Spanish, means quite a different thing than my meaning.
I asked a transplanted Belgian living in Canada what she thought She, being Jewish, didn't give a hoot about Jesus but suggested it could be either and not to worry. It's not her book after all.
The substitutes suggested are okay but none carry the lordly impact as le seigneur. I suppose most readers wouldn't notice but getting it right is important to me.


12-27-2006, 01:02 AM
Aha . . . I thought you were using it as a title, in direct address; my mistake. If not, no, don't uppercase it.

12-27-2006, 06:03 AM
Thanks to everyone who responded to my post. I can move ahead now sure of my path.

Steve Lenaghan
01-01-2007, 08:14 PM
You're writing in English; English capitalization rules apply, and the Chicago Manual of Style concurs. Uppercase S.

Being uncomfortable bi-lingual I do not alway pay attention to those details, I see French, I think French. So when I see the question mark at the beginning of a sentence ?Avez vous un... my mind ignores it. Personally Anglicizing some words is disrespectful. We do that far to often with other's words.
As an example the proper pronunciation for Montreal, a corruption of Mount Royal, is [mɒ̃ɾeal] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronunciation_of_Montreal). As an Anglo I still prefer to say it in French.

Then there is our national bilingual favorite. Hilarious but you have to be Canadian to truly understand Bon Cop, Bad Cop (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_Cop,_Bad_Cop)

01-02-2007, 08:03 AM
This may not help, but in Three Musketeers, Richelieu is always Monseignior (please pardon my spelling)--always capitalized.

01-09-2007, 07:43 AM
I have a BA and MA in French, first started learning French at age 7, and lived in France for several years. The answer: le seigneur would not be capitalized. Look at any French text: even le roi (the king) is not capitalized. They use capital letters less than we do in English. And although one poster noted that you're writing in English and should thus follow English capitalization rules, in English we do not capitalize generic titles (the king, the queen, the duke, etc.). We only capitalize them when they're used with a name: Queen Elizabeth, Lord Mountbatten, and so on. (Note that when people capitalize "the Lord," they're talking about God--the same is true in French: le Seigneur means God). So, I would italicize, but not capitalize.

The other possible titles (sire, etc.) suggested in this thread are not correct.

That said, I cannot imagine any French person using le seigneur or any other title of nobility in a non-sarcastic way these days. The Revolution swept away the nobility; there are descendants of pre-revolutionary nobility, and they are still sometimes referred to in the gossip columns as the countess of such-and-such, and technically they still may be the countess of such-and-such, but it's not like in the UK--there is no actual nobility anymore, no set of titles associated with particular regions or castles. And the vast majority of castles in France are either publicly owned tourist sites, in ruins, converted into hotels, or privately-owned homes whose owners do not have titles (the castles were taken during the revolutionary period and their owners dispossessed).

So my point is, there are no longer titles of nobility associated with the land: it's not like in the UK, where castles are sometimes sold along with their titles so the buyer becomes the lord (or "laird" in Scotland) of the manor. Also, the attitude towards the aristocracy is decidedly negative, so I can see French people referring to someone who owned a castle as le seigneur, maybe, but they would only do it sarcastically. Maybe very old people in the countryside would still have a modicum of respect for what's left of the aristocracy--I knew a very elderly woman who had worked as a maid in a castle when she was young, and she liked her employers (they loaned her their glamorous Paris apartment to spend her honeymoon in), so she was not negative towards that class of people. But even among the elderly there is a lot of contempt for the very concept of aristocracy, and certainly middle-aged and younger people would tend to be dismissive of it. Especially if le seigneur were American--then he would have absolutely no real claim on any title of nobility, so even the elderly people who do respect old class boundaries wouldn't see him as occupying that aristocratic class.