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My understanding of the phrase ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ is different from any I have yet met on the web.

I agree with the synopsis that the ancient verb ‘honir’ is now ‘honnir’, but I think their translation is a bit awry.

Some bright spark suggested ‘conveying contemptuous disrespect’ for ‘honir’, which is an improvement on other translations such as ‘ Shame on him who evil thinks’.

Their whole approach to French needs to be re-considered. It is a romantic language, and words have many different shades of meanings. The web tends to take a scientific view of everything and cannot fully appreciate a sentiment in motion.

When Alienor d’Aquitaine dropped her garter and exclaimed to the surrounding court ‘honi soit qui mal y pense’ it was meant as an ‘affaire de noblesse’ – as such one shouldn’t be too literal in translation.

My understanding of the verb ‘honir’ is that it means ‘the same – le votre’ as if one were ‘honouring’ an occasion. Thus if someone were thinking some untoward thought about the lady it would be her noble station to parry the sentiment with ‘same to you’. This translation has been corrupted to mean ‘Evil to him who evil thinks’, whereas I would prefer ‘The same to him who evil thinks’.

I referred to the bright spark who translated ‘honir’ as ‘contemptuous disrespect’ – in any court the wit of a remark is in its brevity in conveying a negative sentiment politely. Courts are not generally construed for a positive purpose – they mean varying degrees of negative sentiments, hence the need for manners and etiquette. It might well be that a lady in a court does not mean a positive sentiment when she speaks in such a situation, and thus ‘honir’ should translated as conveying a light sarcastic tone i.e. ‘contemptuous disrespect’. This is then not mutually exclusive to the sentiment of ‘the same - le votre’ of which I spoke, but needs a slightly acerbic tone – ‘the same to you’.

Essentially, it is not for us to translate them, but for them to translate us. They have precedent, speak a romantic language and mean a situation  very foreign to our comprehension. The Angevin ethos would be littered with such senteiments. They speak a language of the court which is still with us to this day.



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