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  1. #1

    Default Anyone fluent in french?

    My search for historic microscope makers has crossed to Paris and there's a polymath who's leading me a merry dance. His real name was Alexandre François Gilles, but pretty much everything he did (ranging from microscope lens design to developing shale oil extraction methods and book publishing) was done under the pseudonom "Selligue". This is a synthetic name, and the first 6 letters are his surname, reversed, but I have no idea what the e and u might refer to. It's not part of his forenames, or his wife's name.

    Can anyone whose french is better than my ancient GCE on modern french and self-taught huguenot french suggest anything? A rank or title, perhaps? Of course, he could have picked them out of the air. The time is the 2nd half of the 18th and 1st half of the 19th centuries.

    I don't actually need the info for my research, but the man's irritating me. His interests were so diverse that if he hadn't used his synthetic name, I (and others) would not have realised that it was the same guy. However, once you get past the hassle of tracking patents, it's the same (real) name and address on all of them. Also, I think that I'm possibly the first genealogy addict who's taken an interest in him.

    I can hear ghostly sniggering!

  2. #2
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    As a linguist I suspect your fellow mod Sue will have a better idea than me, but until she can respond, my thoughts are that it may be more to do with pronunciation than any particular meaning to the 'ue'.

    In French, the letter 'g' has a soft sound (the same as 'j' in 'je') when followed by 'e' or 'i', otherwise it's hard (as in English 'go'). Thus the surname Gilles would have the soft 'g', but the made-up Selligue would end with a hard 'g'. '-ig' on its own isn't a normal French ending, so to Frenchify it (or perhaps to differentiate it from German words which do end in '-ig') he would have needed to add something else: '-e' to make the 'g' soft, or '-ue' to make it hard.

    There might have been reasons to avoid the soft 'g'. There are a couple of similar words - 'scellage' meaning sealing, and 'sellage' meaning saddling, but dictionaries do sometimes omit offensive words. However, I did see that 'selle', the root of 'sellage', can mean a motion of the bowels...

  3. #3
    Knowledgeable and helpful thewideeyedowl's Avatar
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    Default 'Segue' to your merry dance?

    Well, this is just an intuitive guess, my own French not having progressed beyond O Level - never mind how long ago(!):

    The word 'segue', a musical term meaning 'to follow on', was coined from the Italian in the mid-18th century. Well, your chap is a polymath living at the right time so he might have picked up the word - his ideas just kept 'following on' - and cleverly integrated it into his own reversed name, perhaps. See this dictionary entry:

    https://www.dictionary.com/browse/segue (Scroll to the bottom for the history bit.)

    Otherwise, I agree with everything Arthurk says about the pronunciation/quality of the letter 'g' (which gives problems in English too, of course).

    Swooping off

    Owl
    Families don't make sense - they make history.

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    Another couple of thoughts came to me, both to do with punning or wordplay.

    First, it could be a phonetic representation of a French phrase beginning "C'est..." (This/It is...). The 'L' sound might be the definite article "l'" followed by a word starting with a vowel, but I can't find any that would fit. Or it might be "C'est..." followed by an adjective, though again I can't find anything that would fit.

    The only phrases I can make out of it are "C'est lige" (soft 'g') and "C'est ligue" (hard 'g'), neither of which is good French because lige and ligue are both nouns which would need an article in front. They also don't make much sense - lige = liege; ligue = league.

    My second thought is one I'm leaning towards a bit more, and it means backtracking on my earlier suggestion of avoiding something looking German. One article I found said that Gilles/Selligue came from Geneva; that's a French-speaking city, but elsewhere in Switzerland German is dominant. And further north, the border between France and Germany has moved backwards and forwards so much that in many areas it would be common to know both languages.

    German has a word "selig", which in southern Germany is pronounced with a hard 'g' at the end, and I think the same is probably true in Switzerland. This means blessed or fortunate, so I'm now wondering if this might have been a deliberate wordplay. "Selig" and "Selligue" wouldn't be pronounced exactly the same, but they might have been thought close enough for the pun to work.

    In this scenario, the '-ue' at the end could have been for the benefit of the French, who might have been confused by the '-ig' ending and not known how he wanted it to be pronounced.

  5. #5
    Super Moderator Sue Mackay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by arthurk View Post
    As a linguist I suspect your fellow mod Sue will have a better idea than me, but until she can respond, my thoughts are that it may be more to do with pronunciation than any particular meaning to the 'ue'
    It was my birthday yesterday so I was otherwise engaged, but am now reminded just how many years it is since my linguistics degree!
    I agree with Arthur's thoughts on the matter.
    Sue Mackay
    Insanity is hereditary - you get it from your kids

  6. #6

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    Thank you both for your suggestions.
    Since I posted, I have found another site (this trail is amazingly fragmented by each of his activities) about an (apparently) famous brother in law’s family which gives my guy’s parents and grandparents. He and his parents were all Paris-born, didn’t say where the grandparents were from so that could be a link to Geneva... They were nearly-upper middle class, I think.

    The name turns up with both double and single “l” in accounts about him, and on some of his optical instruments but even they are second hand info - “made for Selligue by xxxxx” sort of thing, but in all the official documents he used the double. It can’t be coincidence that most of the word spells his surname in reverse... I still rather like Arthur’s first idea that it’s to make the word easier to say!

    Despite the fact that one review describes him as “the famous optician” (in those days “optician” covered a multitude of things optical including the barometer he took up Mont Blanc), it seems to have been a fairly minor part of his life as much time seems to have gone on minerals, domestic gas production and oil extraction. He seems to have specialized in having bright ideas and getting other folk to implement them, but with his name on the final product!

    Sadly, the documents for a final answer are probably long gone in a fire at the Paris Archives - that comes from one of Google’s infamous fragment views which finished with “fire”, so whether that was WW2 or somewhen else I don’t know.

    Fortunately, I only actually need the optical stuff, the rest of the hunt is just genealogist’s disease...

    Only 3 more to go (I’ve been working my way through the makers of a historical microscope collection). I have learned a LOT during the hunt, especially about genealogy outside my normal stamping ground.

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