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Monday, June 11, 2012

Entre Chien et Loup

I learned a new phrase today.  I learned several variants: “L’heure entre chien et loup” is my favorite. 

A literal translation would be: “the hour between dog and wolf.”  The common French usage?  It’s a reference to those ambiguous hours we English call dawn, dusk or twilight.  What I love about this term, this phrase, is that it carries within it so many layers of meaning. 

Ya just gotta love four words strung together that can send you on a crazy mind-bender.

The French linguist would explain that the term refers to a specific time of day, when the light is such that one can’t distinguish between a dog or wolf.  A Scot may refer to this as the “darking” hour or “the gloaming.”  It doesn’t surprise me at all that folks who tend to flocks in fog-shrouded valleys and moors would have a certain reverence for the ambiguous light that complicates the matter of distinguishing friend from foe - the dog from the wolf.

It’s the ambiguity that intrigues.

In that hour between dog and wolf, we can’t know if we’re safe or threatened.  We can't be sure if our eyes deceive, if we truly know what we think we know.  We’re caught somewhere between comfort (ignorant bliss?) and fear.  It’s good, of course, to be able to distinguish between the two, but...I’ve never mastered that.

I seem to be perpetually lost in “L’heure entre chien et loup.” 

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Blogger June Calender said...

What an interesting, meaning packed phrase. No poem about it? If it keeps preying on my mind, I might have to try to write a poem, as you say it suggests so much. Thanks for enlarging my metaphoric vocabulary.

Tue Jun 12, 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

What an interesting, meaning packed phrase. Isn't it, though?

Years ago, I wrote a short piece about the "fog of ambiguity" wherein all conclusions are suspect. My prose wasn't nearly as compelling as simply noting it was the hour between dog and wolf.

This phrase has staying power, June. I've savored it now for two days running.

Tue Jun 12, 04:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great post, Jonas. Mind-bender indeed. Perfect words to describe it.

Wed Jun 13, 09:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you loaned the phrase to us- complete with an open-ended series of thoughts on its complexity.

Thanks for this.

Fri Jun 15, 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Mary. Let's face it, a concatenation of words pungent with meaning's gonna rock any writer's soul.

I'm as thrilled as you Ms. Titanium. Apparently, someone's about to publish a finance/investment book with the phrase "between dog and wolf" in the title. Can't say I was all that intrigued by the book, but the phrase grabbed me by the throat.

Fri Jun 15, 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Secret Agent Woman said...

Ooh, I'm happy to know I still remember some of my French! Around here it's the hour between the dog and the coyote. Dusk is such a mysterious time. But maybe the saying could also capture a time in the lifespan.

Sat Jun 16, 09:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

In my case, yes, Secret Agent Woman, it's an apt description of where my heart lies..."entre chien et loup."

Sun Jun 17, 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

After reading this, my interpretation of the phrase may have been wrong for a long time.

I've always taken it to mean the lull after which the dogs have gone to bed, but the wolves have yet to come out. Like the quiet time in a pub/bar when the after-work drinkers are going home, but the evening revellers have yet to arrive.

Yours makes sense, so now I need a different term for that. Hmm.

Sat Feb 11, 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Hello Simon. Your interpretation of the phrase has a logic of its own so I can understand how you came to adopt it. Thanks for dropping by.

Fri Feb 17, 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

Thanks Jonas. I guess both interpretations refer to the same dusky time of night, so it kind of works. I just wish I could remember where I first read it.

Fri Feb 17, 08:41:00 AM  

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