Friday, September 21, 2007

Roué

As long as I'm in a French mood, I'll delve into another French word...

First of all, roue, as DD spells it, is misspelled. Roué has an accent. Otherwise, you wouldn't pronounce the "e". It would just be roue (pronounced roo), which rhymes with roux, which is the white sauce.

Now, etymologically, roué derives from the Latin "rota" for a wheel, and evolved from the past participle of the French "rouer" for "to break upon a wheel". The insinuation is that the individual is so sinful as to require the punishment of being broken upon the wheel, a throwback to a torture predominantly of the Middle Ages (the Catherine Wheel) designed for execution. As I continue to analyze the etymologies and uses of words, and I am more and more intrigued by the sharp shift in the evolution and derivation of words which occurred between 900 and 1600. I'll have to explore that more, and augment my postings with my findings. So the crimes of a man who was to be broken on the wheel were so morally repugnant that he was not eligible to be execute by the gallows, normally reserved for common crimes like theft. But now we just think of the roué as someone who is devoted to sensual pleasure, which may or may not have been actionable on the wheel in 1450. Whether our tolerance for these crimes has abated, or whether our connotation of its has evolved, it seems that the meaning is debauchery, and not a capital crime, like leading a riot or a gang of brigands.

An admitted roué, he drank all the wine in the cellars and cleaned out the stores in less than a week. Too easy. Oscar Wilde wrote of the prototypical roué in An Ideal Husband. Also too easy. Plaintiff's counsel wined and dined his soon to be divorced client and cleaned out her bank account in the process as only a roué could. Still too easy. As I try to formulate these sentences, I am struck with the overwhelming feeling that roué and effete belong in the same sentence. A gluttonous roué at Thanksgiving and Christmas, he lay on the couch, effete from trytophan overdose and watching football. Yes, I note all my roué are men, but the definition was "a man devoted to a life of sensual pleasure." A woman knows better!

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