Neuf et nouveau

7DC45A0B-9268-438F-8D1E-DA3D5E1ADC13I recently had a French mystery explained for me, the difference between neuf and nouveau, both of which mean “new.” I’ve been reading Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, where all was explained. Apparently, in the 18th century, only the very wealthiest people, like the king and queen, could afford completely new clothes. Everyone else wore hand-me-downs. The queen gave her old gowns to her ladies-in-waiting, they gave their gowns to their servants, and the servants sold their old gowns in the market. The queen’s new gown was neuf , but once she passed it on, it was nouveau to the lady-in-waiting, new to her, but not brand-spanking new, if you see what I mean. It’s also where we get the words novel and novelty, something that’s new to us, but not objectifiably new. Mystery solved. It all makes so much sense. These days, the distinction is not observed: nouveau is far more frequently used than neuf.

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
This entry was posted in Fashion, French Vocabulary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Neuf et nouveau

  1. Nemorino says:

    I never knew this before. Interesting.

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