Sex and the single wine

Last weekend as we were bottling, our friend François stopped by to check out our operation and lend a hand. In addition to being a real live Burgundian and an incredibly nice guy, he’s also a home winemaker (“with 10 foot ceilings in his basement,” someone mentioned with envy and awe).

At one point, watching me paste labels on bottles, he tiptoed toward a question:

“It’s interesting that you call it ‘Le Peugeot.'”

“Yeah,” I answered. “We thought we should name all our wines after things you find in a French garage. Being, you know, Garagistes…”

This, of course, to someone who’d actually been in a Gallic garage.

“…Heh heh?” I ventured. My voice trailed off…

“Oh, yes,” he answered cheerfully, reaching as far as he could for the conversational baton. “But also that you named it ‘Le Peugeot’ instead of ‘La Peugeot.'”

“Uhhh…” I felt myself drifting out of the shallow end of the French language pool where I’d clearly mistaken wading for swimming.

“Because, as you know” — really assuming I did, the kind fellow — “‘la voiture’ [car] is ‘la,’ is feminine, so it would normally be ‘La Peugeot’ because you named it after a car…”

He paused, a little embarrassed as he realized that this was indeed news to me. Suddenly, pasty legs, khaki shorts, a stupid T-shirt and a cheap video camera festooned me. I talked louder to compensate.

“But it said on the internet…”

So our wine appears to have some gender identity issues. But what does this French guy know? Is our wine a chick or a dude? Discuss…

Now, you could argue that if the rule is indeed that the species takes the gender of the genus – the part takes the gender of the whole, synecdochically speaking – then it follows that since “wine” is “le vin,” and the Peug’ is a wine, it is indeed properly “Le Peugeot.”

Not so, responds linguist [and patient father of the querier] Ed Gerow:

Yes, the Frenchman is right. The gender of the item extends to abbreviations and other clones. You have another example in the big department store in Paris, “La Samaritaine” — even though ‘magazin’ is masculine.

But what about “Le Car?” I asked smugly, moving my pawns to surround his king. But wait: that’s not his king – it’s mine!… Nooooooooooo…!

I think you’ll find that “Le Car” was a North American marketing gimmick, like “Le Bag” that you see on certain shopping bags. It seems that the model was never sold with that monicker elsewhere, i.e., where French was known.

Pff. Well, if you don’t like the answer from one expert, find another, I say. Dr. Joan Halperin, emeritus professor of French?

Hmmm. Peugeot being normally UNE voiture, you say “ma/ta/la Peugeot” in reference to my/your/the car. But since LE vin is masculine, I assume you would say LE (VIN) PEUGEOT. It may confuse and intrigue people! Right on!

Confusion and intrigue: why, that’s our stock in trade! Assuming our goal is not to make any sense whatsoever (not so far fetched a proposition), it appears Dr. Halperin has kindly (and perhaps indulgently) granted us some wiggle room.

So, what do you think: Le Peugeot or La Peugeot?

1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. JMCQ May 5th, 2007 11:42 pm

    “Le Peugeot” might give us a line of defense when we get our cease and desist letter from PSA Peugeot Citroën.

    Perhaps one of you francophone smartypants could explain why Armand Peugeot named his first penny-farthing “Le Grand Bi.”

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