A Treasure House of the French Language: Ranconnet’s Dictionary

Like all good libraries, Worcester Cathedral Library has a large French dictionary, the ‘Thresor de la langue francoyse tant ancienne que moderne’. It was published in 1606 and contains explanations of words in what was then modern French as well as those in old French, so it’s a very useful resource for anyone looking through the Library’s publications in French.

Worcester Cathedral Library

Title page from the dictionary. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

If your French grammar is a bit rusty, there is, in the same volume, a compilation of its rules, an ‘Exact et tres facile acheminement a la langue francaise’. The compiler realises that there are those who don’t speak French who would be interested in knowing how its grammar works, so he divides each page in two. On the left is the grammar in French and on the right, to provide a clear explanation for all us foreigners, is the grammar in Latin!

Later in the volume are fascinating lists of technical terms relating to a great array of topics – buildings, trees, medicine, music, rivers, parts of the fish, roses and the list goes on and on. Here the terms are in Latin and Greek with translations or explanations in several European languages but very rarely in English. How times have changed.

On a lighter note, there’s a section setting out French proverbs. It’s interesting to see that many have equivalents in English, sometimes exact but at other times with a little twist:

Mettre la charrue devant les bœufs’ – we put the cart before the horses but they put it before the oxen.

Worcester Cathedral Library

Horse and cart, not ox and cart! Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

Fermer l’estable quand les chevaux sont pris’ – we shut the stable door after the horse has bolted but they do so after the horses have been taken.

Vouloir voler avant qu’avoir des aisles’ – they want to fly before having wings, we want to run before we can walk.

Julia McCreath


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