Sou

Sou.
Nom masculin.

Centième partie de la roupie.

« L’autre jour, en mettant de l’ordre dans des tiroirs, j’ai retrouvé un vieux vingt-cinq sous. Ça m’a fait drôle de revoir cette pièce-là. Qu’est-ce qu’on pouvait avoir avec vingt-cinq sous il y a trente ans, tu te souviens ? »

« Hier, le dollar était coté à environ Rs 33 dans les banques commerciales mauriciennes, affichant ainsi un gain de 50 sous depuis fin décembre 2008. » (Le Mauricien, 24 janvier 2009.)

Dans la France ancienne le sou était une pièce ayant eu diverses valeurs. Le sou tournois valait 12 deniers, le sou parisis 15. Le sou était censé valoir un vingtième de livre, soit 12 deniers. « En 1536, sous François 1er, le prix du setier étant de 3 livres 1 sou 11 deniers. » (TLF.) Cela vaut bien les interminables calculs en guinées, livres, “chelins” et pence auxquels les pauvres écoliers mauriciens devaient se livrer il n’y a pas si longtemps de cela. Dans une France plus récente, le sou valait un vingtième de franc : « 2. a) [En France, dep. l’adoption du système décimal, à la Révolution, jusqu’en mars 1947 où les pièces de monnaie de cette valeur ont été retirées de la circulation] Unité monétaire minimale valant un vingtième de l’ancien franc (antérieur au premier janvier 1960), soit cinq centimes. Synon. pop. rond. »

Avec l’érosion constante de notre monnaie, il est possible que dans un avenir plus ou moins proche il n’existe plus de pièce inférieure à la roupie. On cessera alors de parler de “sous”. Du temps qu’on payait en lires en Italie, aucun montant ne faisait normalement état d’une fraction de lire. La pièce d’une lire aurait cessé d’être en circulation en 1959 (Wikipedia) et avant son remplacement par l’euro en 2002, la monnaie italienne se déclinait en billets allant de 1 000 à 500 000 lires.

Sachant qu’en français de France il existe l’expression “roupie de sansonnet” signifiant “chose insignifiante”, on peut se demander quand est-ce que notre roupie de Maurice aura fini de couler*, telle le Titanic, pour devenir “de sansonnet”.
 
 
 
* Roupie : Vieilli. Humeur sécrétée par la muqueuse nasale et qui pend au nez par gouttes. Avoir la roupie au nez. (TLF)

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29 réponses à “Sou

  1. Siganus K.

    Les sous pouvant se retrouver au niveau de l’anatomie, de vieux commentaires dans lesquels il était question de “cinq-sous”, ceux qui ornent notre “chest” : http://correcteurs.blog.lemonde.fr/2006/04/18/2006_04_quinzevingts_a_/#comment-16758
    http://correcteurs.blog.lemonde.fr/2006/04/18/2006_04_quinzevingts_a_/#comment-16770

  2. Ohhh, GT is screwing up royally today: deniers is pennies, rightly, but sous is pence. I suppose in Google’s corpora sou tended to mean ‘the smallest possible coin’ rather than its historical meaning, ‘shilling’.

    Anyhow, all this is swept away now. One point for Thomas Jefferson (despite all his personal faults and political errors) not only the author of the Declaration of Independence but also the founder (with his friend Franklin and his enemy Madison) of decimalized currency.

  3. Oops. For « Madison » read « Hamilton » above.

  4. Siganus K.

    Oh, so the USA had decimalised currency long before Britain? But then why keep the gallon, the pound and all the rest?

    I know a gentleman in his seventies who seems to have been traumatised by calculations involving the different English currencies (see above in the post). But you could rightly argue that we still have hours and degrees of 60 minutes and minutes of 60 seconds…

  5. marie-lucie

    Ne connaissant autrefois que le sens dit « vieilli » du mot roupie, j’ai été fort surprise lorsque j’ai découvert que c’était une monnaie en Inde (et, depuis votre blog, à Maurice aussi).

    Le sansonnet est un petit oiseau, sa roupie ne se monte donc pas à grand-chose.

  6. Siganus K.

    Des roupies en Inde et au Pakistan, à Maurice et aux Seychelles. En Indonésie on touve des rupiah, que l’on peut appeler “roupies indonésiennes” en français.

  7. >Siganus K.
    En espagnol, en plus des monnaies («rupia»), c’est le nom d’une maladie de la peau dont je n’ajoute pas aucune photo. Dans ce cas, l’étymologie ne parle pas du sanscrit mais du grec et sa signification est saleté.

  8. marie-lucie

    En dépit de leur ressemblance en français, les deux mots « roupie » n’ont rien à voir l’un avec l’autre, c’est une coïncidence.

  9. Après avoir lu le mot «denier» dans le billet je me suis souvenu que ce mot est aussi employé comme unité de mesure des fils donc j’ai cherché et trouvé que le poids de la monnaie est son origine.

  10. marie-lucie

    « Dinero » et « denier » ont la même origine, le mot latin « denarius ».

  11. marie-lucie

    Les sous: quand j’étais petite (juste après la guerre), il y avait encore des pièces de 5 centimes (de franc ancien), mais je crois que seules les vieilles personnes appelaient ça des « sous ». Plus rien ne se vendait 1 ou 2 sous. Mon arrière-grand-mère (née en 1867) se souvenait de l’époque où elle achetait du lait frais pour 2 sous à la laiterie (où il y avait des vaches, en plein Paris).

    Par contre, jusqu’à une époque plus récente , il y a eu les pièces de 2 francs et de 5 francs (anciens) qu’on appelait le plus couramment des pièces de « 20 sous » et « 100 sous » respectivement.

    Je crois que le sou a disparu comme unité de monnaie (même sans valeur officielle) avec la réforme financière qui a donné le « nouveau franc » valant 100 « anciens francs », en 1959 je crois. Il n’y avait plus de place pour le vieux « sou ».

  12. Oh, so the USA had decimalised currency long before Britain? But then why keep the gallon, the pound and all the rest? But then why keep the gallon, the pound and all the rest?

    Because money was decimalized from the establishment of the U.S. government under the Constitution of 1787 (still in effect today). That document required the new government to establish a uniform national currency, as the 13 states (former colonies) were no longer permitted to coin money. Under Jefferson’s influence, the « Federal money » had a decimal basis: indeed, the 10-cent piece still says « ONE DIME » on it, dime being an anglicization of the old French disme, and this is the normal word for the coin. (We also still speak of pennies for cent coins, also in figurative uses, although that term has never been official.)

    Weights and measures, however, were no business of the national government, and no single state would find it useful to reform them away from the usage of its neighbors. Consequently, although the validity of the customary system has never been established by law, it has remained in effect today. In contrast, the metric system was established as permitted (though not mandatory) in 1866, unlike the situation in Britain where by law butter, for example, had to be sold in pounds or fractions thereof as late as the 1960s.

    Various adumbrations of uniform decimalized weights and measures go back to the 1660s in both France and England, but it was surely the influence of Benjamin Franklin, the first ambassador to France from America, that induced Louis XVI to convene the committee that created the metric system, which was then adopted by the revolutionary government. Nevertheless, Napoleon reverted to customary units, and it was not until the middle of the 19th century that they were finally stamped out. In general, when governments don’t insist on the metric system, customary units tend to prevail. (The exact state of metrication in the U.S. today can be seen in WP.)

    But you could rightly argue that we still have hours and 60 minutes of degrees and minutes of 60 seconds.

    Decimalized time, with 10 hours per day, 100 minutes per hour, and 100 seconds per minute, was in fact adopted as part of the French Revolutionary Calendar and abolished with it.

  13. >Marie-lucie
    Oui, mais je parle du «denier», employé ainsi en espagnol dans les livres techniques pour ladite unité. D’ailleurs, le «tex» du S.I.

  14. Siganus K.

    M.-L. : Par contre, jusqu’à une époque plus récente , il y a eu les pièces de 2 francs et de 5 francs (anciens) qu’on appelait le plus couramment des pièces de « 20 sous » et « 100 sous » respectivement.

    Vous avez aussi la chanson de Brassens :

    Du temps que je vivais dans le troisièm’ dessous,
    Ivrogne, immonde, infâme,
    Un plus soûlaud que moi, contre un’ pièc’ de cent sous,
    M’avait vendu sa femme.

    (La fille à cent sous)

  15. marie-lucie

    Justemen, 100 sous ça ne valait plus grand-chose.

  16. marie-lucie

    JC: I didn’t know the story of the French weights and measures had been to complicated. Reform was indeed needed, since each province pretty much had its own system, which interfered with commerce within the country. When reading Jules Verne’s novels I was always struck by the great variety of measures that he uses, in both metric and older units. But that must have been in order to make himself understood by a wide variety of readers, who would only be familiar with some of them.

  17. When I read Verne’s From the Earth To The Moon as a teenager, I was struck by the dreadfulness of the mathematics. The text spoke of the escape velocity (the speed needed to climb an arbitrary distance against the Earth’s gravity) as 12000 yards. This has at least four problems in a mere two words: the unit required is distance per second, not just distance; meters are not yards (they are about 10% larger); anglophones do not speak of thousands of yards (7 miles per second would be the normal usage); 12000 should be 12,000. From what I understand, the rest of the translation was equally atrocious.

  18. marie-lucie

    Some years ago I found a discarded English version of 20.000 lieues sous les mers, which I had read in French as a child, and found the translation atrocious. The worst instance was when Paganel succeeds in making fire by concentrating the sun’s rays with a lentil (French une lentille means both « lens » and « lentil »), but even without that level of howling the text was painful to read. This translation was dated (I think) 1937. Later I found a newer edition by a different publisher, but it was the very same translation! No wonder English people did not think very highly of Jules Verne. Those translations must have been done by a French person not very fluent in English, and never revised by an English speaker. Perhaps the works were considered to be aimed at children and therefore not deserving of as much care as adult publications? It seems that nobody in the publishing house even bothered to read the translations. Even one page would have been enough to see that the text was unreadable.

    A few years ago there was an article on Jules Verne in Scientific American, by two scientists who were engaged in new translations. Perhaps some of these translations have been published by now. Even if they turn out to be disappointing, they can hardly be worse than the earlier one.

  19. Siganus K.

    Some years ago I found a discarded English version of 20.000 lieues sous les mers, which I had read in French as a child, and found the translation atrocious.

    Some months ago I re-read this book, which I had read many, many years before. It was in French, which means that there wasn’t any translation problem, but I found it quite boring. As I put it in a comment on the 6th January this year, “cette fois-ci je l’ai trouvé assez chiant, surtout à cause des interminables énumérations d’espèces marines”. Very often it was like opening a biology book in which a maximum of species were listed. And at times its modernity (the way new things were presented) sounded very old-fashioned. It seems to me that nowadays we are not getting that excited about new technologies or new knowledge. Or if we do — like we should in some cases —, it looks less childish. (Well, I suppose it’s easy to say all this with hindsight. But still…)
     
     
    John, I didn’t know the United States had gone that far on the (bumpy) road to metrication. With a little additional push maybe we wouldn’t have had one last big country on Earth that continues to use cumbersome units.

    Regarding time, I think this is the most sensitive of all issues. (Two years ago they’ve re-tried to have summer supposedly daylight saving time in Mauritius, but a lot of people were so upset with it that they didn’t do it the following year.) Can you imagine days of only 10 hours? They must be endless when you have to attend a three-hour meeting with a project manager.

  20. m-l: Translation is normally considered by the publisher as pure cost, so if a translation is available, however bad, they will use it, and even though translators are paid abominably, they will not invest in new ones (which after all, I suppose, may be worse). At least this is so in the U.S.

    Sig: I can easily imagine such days. Indeed, on the winter solstice (December 22), the day here in New York City will last only 9h15m astronomically speaking, and in practice is even shorter due to the tall buildings.

  21. marie-lucie

    I used to live in northern BC (close to the tip of the Alaska panhandle) and in the depth of winter we had only about 6 hours of full daylight (and the sun rose and set behind high mountains, so even on sunny days the hours of sunlight were shorter). On the other hand, in the summer we had extremely long days and short, not very dark nights. In any season you noticed a difference at least week by week. A friend of mine spent several years in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories, above the Arctic Circle. There in the winter there were a few days without sun, and most of the time the sun was up it hovered above the horizon before setting. Of course, in the summer it was the opposite. This type of schedule is hard on people who are not used to it.

  22. Siganus K.

    John: the day here in New York City will last only 9h15m astronomically speaking

    Well I understood that it was the 24-hour period — i.e. a day, a full planetary revolution — that was divided into 10 revolutionary hours. Can you imagine hours of about 2½ hours? I can’t.

  23. Oh, I see. Still, decimal minutes are only 1.44 times longer than traditional minutes, and decimal seconds only 0.8 as long, so those are not so bad. And if we introduced decimal half-hours, they’d only be 1.2 times longer than traditional hours.

    So keep hour, heure, Uhr, etc. for the informal 1/20 of a day, as has been done with pounds, and introduce a novel SI term for the formal 1/10 of a day.

  24. m-l: There is a modern translation of 20,000 Leagues at Project Gutenberg, apparently donated by the translator, F. P. Walter. He translates the traditional French units into English ones, and leaves the metric units alone (though with a table to help metric-less readers), which presumably re-creates the effect of Verne’s original on its readers.

    I am not of course competent to judge the quality of Walter’s translation. But as a single example, the title of Part I Chapter 9 in the original is « Les colères de Ned Land »; in the older translation this appears as « Ned Land’s Tempers, but in the new as « The Tantrums of Ned Land. » Not only is temper not normally a count noun, but tantrum fits the plot better.

  25. So keep hour, heure, Uhr, etc.

    Not a bad idea. But Uhr does not belong in this crowd, of course.

    Stunde = hour
    Uhr (cognate with hour)= clock
    Glocke (cognate with clock) = bell

  26. marie-lucie

    JC: I am very glad to hear of this new translation from someone who seems to know what they are doing.

    Les colères = « the tantrums »

    Usually la colère means « anger », but for a young child piquer une colère is « to throw a tantrum » (I think that’s the phrase), so that translation sounds right.

  27. By the way, Sig, I wish you would install the WordPress preview plugin so I can see what I’m doing, and don’t make markup mistakes as above (also on other posts).

  28. marie-lucie

    Oui, Siganus, je suis d’accord avec John: cette fonction est extrêmement utile, surtout pour quelqu’un comme vous ou moi qui alterne entre le français et l’anglais. Je dois souvent passer d’un clavier à l’autre dans le même texte, et les balises ne sont pas les mêmes. Quand il y en a plusieurs dans un texte, il est souvent difficile de se rendre compte de ce à quoi va ressembler le texte terminé.

  29. There is no preview option available of WordPress subdomains. Maybe there is something for blogs that use the WordPress software, but that is for people who pay for their own domain. I use the (free) editor in the back room of my own (free) blog; it even has little icon buttons that will compose the code for you.

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