Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Cul-de-Sac - A Sack's Bottom

A sack


Noun. Plural culs-de-sac (pronounced same), cul-de-sacs. Mid-18th century.
[French = sack bottom.]

1 ANATOMY. A vessel, tube, sac, etc., open only at one end; the closed end of such a vessel. M18

2 A street, passage, etc., closed at one end; a blind alley;
MILITARY a position in which an army is hemmed in on all sides except behind. L18

A sign for cul-de-sac

What!? Cul-de-sac means 'a sack's bottom'?

And yes, I checked: according to Collins' online French dictionary, cul does mean that type of bottom

Why oh why do they not teach you this type of stuff in French at school? This is an example of French that I could have gone out and actually used! I could have pointed at the signs and sniggered; I could have shared this etymological delight with all my mates; I could have climbed the signs and shouted to all the cul-de-sac residents: "You live up a sack's [posterior]!" There is an opportunity here people - an opportunity to simultaneously enhance the linguistic education of our children, to stoke interest in language and language learning, and to laugh at the French. This is the bottom line. Let us seize this chance with both cheeks. No butts.


A really boring, empty cul-de-sac
Possibly the most boring cul-de-sac in the world. A fitting metaphor for my French teacher.
(photo by Kevin Higgins)
Do please leave your most thoughtful comments in the box below.


  1. Sometimes, mostly in American blogs, they bring this word as if it means quite, peaceful, and oh-so-elegant; because for them France decor is a must, only elegant ladies are French patati patata.
    Well it might even be peaceful because the road do end there... one was refering to her home in Wiscosin as "I live in the most perfect Wiscosin cul-de-sac" and when I saw the pictures I realised she didn't use the term for what it was but for that soundful peaceful, pleasant etc.
    It's not a funny thing to say if you understand the meaning but since they don't let them enjoy... it. ahahah
    In fact when a French says the world you can barely listen the L in it... in Portuguese we have the same rude term for... that part. So what a kick in.. that... it is to read they refering it as their own piece of French's pacifique and élégant quartier in Wiscosin XD

    1. In English, we hit the L in 'cul' pretty hard. I would go so far as to say the average native English speaker doesn't even specifically know it's French - it's just one of those funny sounding foreign phrases that's there, always has been there and probably always will be. I've never known anyone to think it's an elegant addition to one's address though. That's really funny : o )

  2. Is there a bottomless and butt free cul-de-sac I wondered? To try and get a more elevated approach to Lexicolatry that has been evident recently. This is the best I could do and hard to beat, I would think

    "This is one of the strangest tarmac roads in Britain: a 22-mile long single-lane cul-de-sac that simply stops dead at the end of Britain's most fjord-like loch, many miles from anywhere. It's the road from near Invergarry, on the Great Glen Fault in northern Scotland, to Kinloch Hourn".

    It's a favourite with cyclists as there is virtually no traffic and the object is purely to cycle to the end, for the pleasure of cycling back.

    1. A bottomless version would just be a sac, wouldn't it? That almost sounds worse.