French lexicographer Pierre Athanase Larousse, the creator of a 15-volume dictionary, was born on October 23, 1817. It’s incredible to me that the father of the French dictionary was himself the son of a blacksmith. As a teen, he won a scholarship to the teaching school in Versailles. After his education was completed, he returned home to teach in the village école primaire. Frustrated by the rigidity of the outdated methods, Larousse moved to Paris where he sought to expand his knowledge by taking free courses at the Sorbonne and many museums. For eight years, he read everything he could get his hands on, totally insatiable to learn.
Larousse taught at a boarding school where he met Suzanne Caubel, his bride-to-be. The two tried their new theories of education in a language course for children. Then he met another former teacher with whom he founded a bookstore and press where they sold what were considered innovative texts and manuals for pedagogy that sought to develop creativity and independence in children. Next came a compact dictionary. But Larousse’s major project was an encyclopedic dictionary that gave information about each entry beyond the meaning of the word, including illustrations. The first volume was published in 1863 and he worked on the remaining 14 volumes steadily until his death from exhaustion on January 3, 1875. His nephew finished the monumental work, each volume of which was 1,500 pages. The publishing house that bears his name still exists, although it was subsequently bought out by other companies. Now, you can download an iPhone app that gives you full access to Larousse dictionaries for free.
Today’s expression, et voilà le travail (ay wvahlah luh trahveye) literally means “and there’s the work” but is used to mean “and that’s that.” These are words that that Larousse never got to exclaim despite 12 years of constant work. After all, voilà is near the end of the dictionary.
Larousse Advanced French/English – English/French dictionary in case you prefer a paper copy
- Lexicographers love National Dictionary Day (independent.co.uk)
- Larousse: On Cooking and Larousse: On Pastry and More! (ecookbooks.typepad.com)