Cul de Sac

I currently live on, and indeed am about to move to a cul de sac. It’s one of those strange bits of French that have crept into the English language without us really knowing what it means. Some people might not even know it’s French.

In American English they have removed many of the French words from their language. So cafetière becomes French press and the American President says “the problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for Entrepreneur”*. Cul de Sac does remain in American English however. The average English speaker who has never learned French will know approximately 15,000 French words.

So what does Cul de Sac mean in French? If you put it into any translation engine you will find that it means “bottom of bag” which kind of describes the shape of the road, especially as many cul de sacs** have round bottoms. But actually that isn’t quite the end of the story as actually the word Cul isn’t the word for bottom in French that most people will have learnt at school (or wherever it is that people learn French these days). The word they would have learnt for bottom is Fond.

So what does Cul mean? Well literally it can mean bottom but more often when it is invoked it means something more akin to Arse (Ass if you’re American). So if you live in a Cul de Sac then you live in the Arse of a bag, try putting that on the particulars of your house and see how many people try arrange a viewing.

* Of course this story isn’t really true – it just seems true – and has been widely circulated. Supposedly Baroness Williams was told this joke by Tony Blair. But Alistair Campbell has said that Tony has never said this comment – so it definitely can’t be true then!

** Or is it Culs de sac?

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