Lesson Seven – Brothels and Bicycles

Today’s word is “Bordel” (pronounced as it is written). I have been using it with gusto all afternoon as I tried to change the back tyre on my bicycle.

“Bordel” in its dictionary sense was originally a slang word for a brothel that eventually came into common use. For Brothel, translate by “Whorehouse”

Until they were banned by the French government in 1949, most towns in France had their own “legal” brothel, known as a “Maison Close”* (Mayzon kloze) . Local businessmen, shopkeepers and dignitaries would stop off at the Brothel on the way home from work for their daily passion ration. Seeing as work finished at 5pm and dinner was not served until 7pm, the nightly sex session became known in slang as a “Cinq a sept” (sanka set). To this day if you have a quick “cinq a sept” then you have a lover or a mistress.(or both!)

Now, just after a session in the sack, so the local dignitaries could go home to their loved ones all fresh and sweet smelling, they had to carry the wherewithal for a bit of hanky panky with them – contraceptives, soap, perfume, a towel and a change of underpants. All this they would carry in a small handbag (for gents) that became known as a “Baise en Ville” (bezonvill)  literally a “fuck in town bag”. When the brothels closed, men continued to carry their “baise en ville” as a sign of masculinity, though the contents changed. This explain the French male penchant for small leather « man bags » – Though I see that man bags are now very popular again.

So what about Bordel?

When you pronounce it loud and with gusto, it simply means “sh**” or “f***”.

You hit your hand with a hammer, whilst banging in a nail. “Bordel” you will shout.

Bordel is associated with “messy” situations.

Something goes wrong at work and you have to pick up the pieces. As you survey someone else’s cack-handed attempts to hide the damage, you may say “C’est quoi ce bordel?” (say kwa se bordel ?)– What the f*** is this sh**?

On entering your kid’s bedroom and becoming a cropper on Playmobil, Lego, Meccano, dead Barbie dolls and other general crap that lies strewn across the floor, you may say to your child

“Ta chambre c’est une vrai bordel” (ta shombre et un vray bordel) meaning that “your room is a bloody (or a f***ing) mess” and not “your bedroom is a brothel”

Bordel can be used in other ways.

Here is a nice expletive

“Bordel de merde” (bordel de mair-d)– (f***ing hell)

So bordel is uused to designate general disorder, whether it be a “bordel” in your wife’s handbag or whether your private life is a “bordel”

For the last two you can also use the adjectival form “Bordelique”

“Cherie ton sac à main est bordelique” (Sherry ton sack a man ay bordeleek) or “Darling, your handbag is a f***ing mess.”

Of course, why would you be looking in your wife’s handbag in the first place ? Unless you need her car keys … (which you know full-well are hanging on a hook in the hall)

“Ta vie est bordelique” (ta vee ay bordeleek) or “Your life is a f***ing mess”

Try this

Tu es bordelique” (Too ay bordeleek) meaning you personally are a real f***ing mess or you are just generally messy.

Finally, here is some homework for you.

Translate the following phrase into contemporary English.

Bordel de merde, demain c’est lundi. Il faut que j’aille bosser.

On the eve of their abolition, there were around 1000 Maison Closes in France. For a good description, read the “Etablissement de Madame Tellier” by Maupassant.