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I'm very much a neophyte at typing French words; i.e., I can't type circonflex accents on my computer.  I'm just starting a new Peter Carey novel "Parrot and Olivier in America," and on page 1 he uses this word (the first 2 e's are accented, the 3rd has a circonflex accent.  I haven't found it in my 2 French dictionaries at home, nor can I find it on-line.  The word refers to a sort of bicycle and the novel is set in DeToqueville's America.  I assume it's a word that implies a vehicle that goes swiftly (there's a picture on page 3).  Can someone help me? - Jerry

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Le célérifère is, as you mention, a bicycle. It's one of its ancestor, all in wood with no pedal and it's impossible to turn the front wheel invented by a Frenchmen, Comte de Sivrac .
The translation in English seems to be celeripede as I see here.

I found on the internet an addition to the story :

actually, De Sivrac was an hoax created by a french journalism. De Sivrac was supposed to have created the ancestor of the bycicle back in 1790. The aim was to give a french origin to the bicycle. 

But the true creator of the machine is Karl Drais, from Germany.

 

I don't know if it is true, but here is the source : 

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/When_did_Comte_Mede_de_Sivrac_die

Lauris and Erwan - you people are amazing (not to mention this amazing technology of the Internet, Google, etc.).  To a quite elderly person like me, it's truly revolutionary how other people's knowlege can be made so quickly and readily available.  And I owe a lot to this forum and website.  thanks! - Jerry

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