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Chris -- 2015-05-30

#1 2012-10-27 10:25:26

From: Montreal
Registered: 2008-03-17
Posts: 1078

Brains of silk workers

Incited by JuanTwoThree’s recent woefully off-topic transgression (so blame him, not me), I submit the following even woerfully off topic finding. At the end I will endeavour to tie it to another of our digressive threads.

There is a chick little café in Lyons where le ménu, thoughtfully translated, offers, among other delights, the following spécialités:

“The place of reference in Lyon since nearly 6 years, COFFEE Perl is attended by all the in love ones of comfort and calm.


the taste of the coffee opens a parallel between the culture and the habits. A broad selection of the best coffees in the world will open the doors of news flavors. Of course if you are attached to your good old man “small black”, come to taste it whenever you want. Il will be always hot and smoking.

At the interior of COFFEE Perl, the environment is made of heat and discretion. Drink enamelled and light software, ones feels at home and absolutely relaxed. Many seats are available, armchairs or chairs… according to préferences. The COFFEE Perl is the place of in love or travellers in evil of bliss…

If not there is the chart the every day.


let us croûtons
eggs of lompe
Pinions of pines
Crunch mister
Brain of silk worker

Here are the softnesses:
Chocolate foam
Melting with the chocolate, cream-coloured English
Baba with rum”

Admittedly, in order to understand how they got there, for many of those you’d have to recognize the jumping-off place. Some of the humour comes from the translation into English equivalents of dishes we retain the French (or Italian I guess) name for: cafe, mousse, fondue, and in Quebec, croque monsieur.

The dish I want to bring to your attention is Brain of silk worker. I wrecked my brain trying to come up with the original for that one. It turns out to be a literal translation of a cheese dip called cervelle de canut. According to Wikipedia, the silk workers of 19th century Lyons were called canuts. The cervelle is slang for ‘brain’, and as the diminutive ‘little brain’, is supposedly a class-based slur.

But here on the Eggcorn Forum, we know that that is not the end of the story. The canut is very dear to us. We have long since learned to not be swayed by the cervelle de canut, however. If I can turn up any further information on the connection of silk workers and canuts, I’ll let you know.

Certain elements of this menu recall another menu described on the Language Log.



#2 2012-10-27 11:50:17

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2515

Re: Brains of silk workers

Blessings on you. You have warned me about a politically incorrect condiment before I ever had a chance to encounter/eat/utter/mispronounce it.

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



#3 2012-10-30 13:39:32

David Bird
From: Montréal, QC
Registered: 2009-07-28
Posts: 1496

Re: Brains of silk workers

It turns out that the pejorative term canut is attached to a lot of interesting French social history. I’ll restrict myself to the parts referring only to the name: those alone also threaten to be long and you may be excused for not wading in.

In the early 1830s, a journal called The Echo of the Fabric took up the issue of the sobriquet canut used familiarly to designate silk workers in Lyons. The journal’s stated goal was to “improve the social and cultural situation of, and provide encouragement to, the proletarian class”. In 1832 a contest was announced to try to find a new “simple, euphonious term to designate the class of workers or fabricants of silk” that was not an insult.

The submissions in the first round began with “Férandiniers” and “séricariens”. Ferrandine was a woven fabric which owed its name to a certain Ferrand who developed it in 1630; its warp was wool, and woof, silk. Pepys mentions ‘ferrandin waiste-coate’ in his diary. A folk etymology arose associating the name of the fabric with horses of a “iron-grey” colour, also called ferrands. ‘Férandinier’ was rejected as too fusty and unfashionable, like the fabric itself.

Sericariens was suggested by reference to Latin texts that used ‘sericarius’ in referring to workers with silk. This root gave birth to its own virtual industry of seric submissions: « sericarieur », « sericareur », « sericariste », « sericariniste », « sériciphante », « séricicophante », « séritextore », and « séritexteur ». These were all rejected for “defaults of harmony”, along with « textoricarien », « textorycien », « armuratisseur », « armatisseur », « cotisseur », « artisseur », « textorien », « bombytexteur », « bombytextorien », and « bombitissorien ». Three other rejects were discarded for length (and dullness): « master silk weaver »,
« silk weaver », and « master fabricant of silk stuff ».

Interestingly for our story, two other submissions were rejected out of hand. These tried to make the case for the retention of canut. Here is one of the defenders of the canut (my translation follows): « J’ai cru, Monsieur, que c’était une plaisanterie que votre concours ouvert pour trouver un nom euphonique, dites-vous, à la classe générale des ouvriers en soie. Je vois avec peine que vous y persistez : pourquoi donc, enfants ingrats, rougirions-nous du nom que nos pères nous ont laissé ! Pourquoi cette susceptibilité, pour mieux dire, cette pruderie ? Qu’a donc de déshonorant le nom de canut ? Qu’importe que ce soit par raillerie ou autrement qu’on nous le donne ? Par lui-même un mot n’a rien de fâcheux.
Appelons-nous canuts et soyons citoyens.
Votre concours à mon avis est inutile, et son but est oiseux ; ce n’est pas de trouver un nom à notre profession qu’il faut vous enquérir, permettez-moi de vous le dire, mais bien des améliorations à notre état social. »

Translation: I thought, sir, that it was a joke, your open competition to find a euphonious name, you say, for the general class of silk workers. I am sorry to see that you persist: why, ungrateful children, should we be ashamed of the name our fathers left us! Why this sensitivity, not to say, this prudery? What therefore is so dishonorable in the name canut? No matter whether in jest or otherwise that others give it us? In itself a word has nothing untoward.
Call us canuts and let’s be citizens.
Your contest is useless in my opinion, and its purpose is idle; it is not for a name for our profession that you must seek, let me tell you, but rather, improvements to our social state.

Those were just the first round rejects. Here were the finalists: « tissericien », « tisseur », « tissoie », « arachnéen », « polymithe », « tissutier », « tissoyer », « bombixier », « tissoyen », « tissoierien », « pamphilarien », « bombitisseur », « soerinier », « soierineur », « soieriniste », « seritisseur », « bombicinaire », and « omnitisseur ». The announcement of these finalists elicited new submissions: « étoffier », « étoffiste », « soiefèvre », « sérifèvre », « fabrissoie », « fabriséricien », and « tissufacteur.» Tisseur in English would be weaver, and _étoffier_ transliterates as stuffer. Bombyx is the genus name of the silk moth.

Not to be outdone, a member of the academy weighed in with a longwinded discourse that completely misunderstood the problem with “canut” but ended with a suggestion that acknowledged the resentment that silk workers held for the term. He suggested that the root word be kept but camouflaged as « canneuriens » or « cannetatiens ». Delicious.

The anticlimax is that the journal folded before a winner was chosen. One of the later letter writers suspected that this was in its own way a decision. I do remark that Google Translate, in going from French to English, changes canut to “weaver”.

Last edited by David Bird (2012-10-30 17:18:59)



#4 2013-02-07 18:31:56

From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-11
Posts: 2031

Re: Brains of silk workers

kem wrote:


That stuff is seriously out of date, kem!

*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)



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