Talk:avant la lettre

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Rfv-sense: I haven't found it in use in English except in quotes or italics. DCDuring TALK 02:39, 13 August 2009 (UTC)

Despite the use of italics, according to this thread this is a common idiom in English. Wouldn't that deserve an entry in the Wiktionary?
BTW, in the etymology section, avant la lettre is translated into "before the letter" but lettre here has a meaning of "caption" (of an engraving), not a written letter that you would send to someone. Is letter another word for caption or is it a poor translation? — Xavier, 01:12, 15 August 2009 (UTC)
If it is as they say, then there should not be any problem finding citations somewhere in Google Books, Google Scholar, Google News or Usenet where it does not appear in quotes of italics in English running text. If it appears only in italics or quotes in English running text then the author is not presenting it as English. I ran out of patience after the first 5 Google English books hits had it in italics. I find it in no Online monolingual dictionaries I have access to. DCDuring TALK 02:43, 15 August 2009 (UTC)
I have failed to find any such citations too. Does it imply the English section has to disappear? I would be quite surprised of such a conclusion considering the number of English books that make use of this term. What if the term is used in different contexts than in French?
Back to the etymology, can someone confirm that in English letter is/was also a term used for the caption in an engraving? See the exact definition here. — Xavier, 16:38, 15 August 2009 (UTC)
We usually give hard-to-search-for terms like this a longer time period to collect citations than the minimum of one month. But the ultimate conclusion under our current rules would be deletion of the English section. If the term is also not idiomatic in French, then it could be deleted altogether, leaving us in the position of not having the term at all, though it would be useful to have it. In a truly open Wiki it would be better to have explicit rules that accommodated this situation. In our more closed, "clubby" wiki, we often seem to rely on undocumented, unofficial "practice" that gives license to certain violations of the official rules, mainly WT:CFI and WT:ELE. There is usually some fig leaf of justification, but often one that would not withstand an intellectually honest challenge. DCDuring TALK 17:54, 15 August 2009 (UTC)
Thank you for this helpful explanation. My understanding is: we have no problem finding citations and "avant la lettre" seems a valid English idiom, albeit not widespread (750 answers on Google books -- English books only but some duplicate results). For this reason, I believe it meets the WT:CFI criteria (I didn't find anything about foreign terms). The only problem we have is to find written citations that do not make use of italics or quotes. Be it foreign or not, its usage in English is attested in my opinion.
If the English section was deleted, the reader would have to fall back to the French section (that would remain since it is a valid French idiom). But nothing proves that its meaning and use in French are exactly the same as in English (its usage may have drifted or broaden). Moreover, you might have adjective and noun forms in English that we do not have in French (this is a generic comment: if this does not apply to this particular entry, this may apply to others). Finally, the reader is looking for a term found in an English context and fails to find the corresponding entry, but nothing guides them to this French entry. It appeared to me that avant la lettre is also used in Dutch, how can the reader know which entry to consult? Here again, the meaning may be slightly different between French and Dutch.
For all these reasons, I think the English section must stay. As for the etymology, since I got no answers, what is the best way to tag the translation as dubious? — Xavier, 20:51, 15 August 2009 (UTC)
Once something is in this process, the only thing that saves it is qualifying citations, unless we dispense with our rules altogether or amend them. Because this seems mostly to be used in academic writings, editorial standards have tended to put the expression in quotes or italics in the durably archived sources. We might have better luck on usenet or google news. DCDuring TALK 21:34, 15 August 2009 (UTC)
Could you please indicate which part of WT:CFI rules out quotations that are in italics? I don't see it, and I wonder if there's some rule there that you and I interpret differently. —RuakhTALK 14:49, 16 August 2009 (UTC)
Well, if you're going to be so picky as to go back to the source and fact-check me,... I must thank you for not letting my memory mistake give false authority to my assertins. I must have conflated a snippet of an RfV discussion, the use-mention distinction, and my understanding of the desirable presentation of foreign-language material in English text to reach a wrong conclusion. The conclusion I was coming to with respect to this entry seemed untenable, so I would be relieved to have been wrong. DCDuring TALK 17:28, 16 August 2009 (UTC)

In my understanding, an English header does not mean that the word is fully considered as an English word, only that it's a word used in English (really used, not only mentioned, of course). Italics often indicate that it's a mention rather than a use, but italics are often used for uses as well. I cannot imagine another criterion than this one ("used in ...") for allocating words to languages. autoroute might be another example: is it considered as a fully English word? Yet, it's present, and it's quite normal. Similarly, highway could warrant a French section (feminine or masculine noun?). Lmaltier 15:24, 16 August 2009 (UTC)

Although Ruakh correctly pointed out above that I had misremembered WT:CFI about this, the bright line that could be drawn based on appearance with or without quotes or italics would be convenient. It would function analogously to the attributive-use test for certain proper noun entries.
Without that test, I am left with many questions. What is the correct interpretation of use-mention as it applies to foreign-language text embedded in English text? Certainly a block of text would be excluded. What about a proverb? A proper noun? A word in a non-Roman script? DCDuring TALK 17:28, 16 August 2009 (UTC)
In "The English word for route is road.", road and route are mentions, and this is clear from italics. In "Most French autoroutes are toll highways., or in He lives near Nantes, in France. or in J'ai commandé un Welsh rarebit." , autoroutes, Nantes and Welsh rarebit are used, not only mentioned, despite italics. This is what is meant by mention and use, I think. Lmaltier 19:29, 16 August 2009 (UTC)
Well, I don't think there's any perfect test for use vs. mention; some sentences are ambiguous or blurry between the two ("they call it happiness" can mean either "happiness is the word they use to refer to it" (mention) or "they consider it to be happiness" (use), with the latter being applicable even if "they" are speaking a different language). However, in general I think it's usually fairly clear whether a term is being used, with a distinct POS, playing a normal term-like role in a sentence, or whether it's simply being mentioned, referred to, implicitly being set off in quote marks and treated as a noun. —RuakhTALK 21:55, 16 August 2009 (UTC)
On second thought, I think you're trying to apply the wrong rule. A block of foreign-language text is sure to contain many words that are used rather than mentioned; and it's rare, but I have seen Hebrew terms actually used, in Hebrew script, in running English text. So the question isn't at what point it becomes "use" rather than "mention", but rather, at what point it becomes "English" rather than (in the case of avant la lettre) "French", or at least, at what point it becomes something we need an ==English== section for. And to that question, I really have no answer. Even if English-speakers use avant la lettre differently from French-speakers, does that mean it's an English expression now, or just a French expression with a special {{context|in English|lang=fr}} sense? And a special {{a|US}} or {{a|UK}} pronunciation? —RuakhTALK 00:03, 17 August 2009 (UTC)
I guess I was trying to borrow "rules" that might apply by analogy.
I have looked at the Chicago Manual of Style (14th) ("MoS") on the use of italics for such words. They seem to recommend using them as long as the word is both foreign and unfamiliar. They recommend looking at dictionaries as part of the test, but are rather inconclusive: "More moderately, the decision might be based on a blend of considerations -- familiarity, inclusion in a dictionary, and sympathy with they reader." If a foreign-language term is only used in academic writings, the various style manuals in aggregate (MLA, APA, MoS, et al) might have helped us, but not if they are all as inconclusive as MoS.
This seems to force us back toward using citations as evidence of how individual authors and editors view the foreign words in question. If no citations can be found outside of quotes or italics then they seem to be saying that the reader needs to be warned that the words in question are both unfamiliar and foreign. DCDuring TALK 01:05, 17 August 2009 (UTC)
I've never heard the expression before, but a Google search for "avant la lettre" +anachronistic seems to bring up enough usages. I've reduced the number of times "used" is used in our definition - hope this is OK. Dbfirs 20:29, 18 August 2009 (UTC)

Oh, God, that whole italicised-uses-don’t-count rule is a load of crap. Try Google Groups Search — Google groups can’t italicise text.  (u):Raifʻhār (t):Doremítzwr﴿ 20:50, 18 August 2009 (UTC)

  • Very common in English. You can't use any French phrase in English (not if you expect to be understood), but you can certainly use this one; it's a perfectly valid tool in English writing and speaking. Ƿidsiþ 09:01, 19 August 2009 (UTC)

Striking, since the issue seems to have been resolved. Quotations would still be nice, though. —RuakhTALK 15:07, 21 November 2009 (UTC)