My Little Monkey Head
October 10, 2009 1:10 PM   Subscribe

French translation question: "little monkey head"?

In "Penguin Island", Anatole France refers to unattractive body parts twice as a "little monkey head", "petite tête de singe" -- above is the original french, below is a google/babelfish translation:

" une petite tête de singe au-dessous du nombril."

"...and a small monkey's head below the navel."

" il semble qu'elle ait à chaque articulation des jambes une petite tête de singe."

"...and she seems to have at each knee a little monkey head."

I'm comparing the main english translation of this book, and the translation adds that the monkey head below the navel is a "stain", but the French has no corresponding mention of it; the knee one is extremely rearranged in the english translation to try and make sense of it. I'm guessing it's a colloquialism -- France has a lot of innuendo and language-play in the rest of the book -- but I can't find an explanation for this description, let alone using it twice to refer to two different people. Any French-speakers have any idea what France means by the little monkey head - or is it purely descriptive?
posted by AzraelBrown to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could it be a birthmark? I have heard tâche (stain) used to describe freckles and birthmarks.
posted by jschu at 1:18 PM on October 10, 2009

Response by poster: The full line for the 'navel' reference is :

"Elle a deux petites cornes au front, qu'elle dissimule sous les bandeaux abondants de sa chevelure d'or; elle a un oeil bleu et un noir, le cou penché à gauche, comme Alexandre de Macédoine, six doigts à la main droite et une petite tête de singe au- dessous du nombril."

She has two horns which she covers with her hair, two different colored eyes, a bent neck, six fingers on her right hand, but no mark, stain, freckle, or birthmark - just the monkey head.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:22 PM on October 10, 2009

Native speaker in my house says it doesn't mean anything special to him. He said it sounds like a tattoo of a monkey.
posted by ohio at 2:54 PM on October 10, 2009

...doesn't this mean body hair?
posted by Hildegarde at 3:32 PM on October 10, 2009

Hum, this is most intriguing, so I looked up the German translation as well, which also says "kleiner Affenkopf". Can't we presume that it is literally a little monkey's head? After all, the things listed come after "elle présente dans sa personne certaines singularités" which include six fingers and, um, horns (in the case of Queen Crucha).

And later on in the text someone repeats that "it is absolutely true that Queen Crucha had a little monkey's head below her navel", which would indicate that this was indeed hard to believe, but true. What I find interesting, personally, is that the term "singularité" or (2nd mention) "particularités singulières" is used when describing these attributes - it makes me wonder if it wasn't at least half-deliberate in its absurdity.

The other example (which actually comes first in the text) seems more likely to be descriptive rather than literal:
Ses genoux, qui tirent sur le rouge, grimacent à tous les pas qu'elle fait, et il semble qu'elle ait à chaque articulation des jambes une petite tête de singe.
Her knees are reddish and seem to be grimacing when she walks, hence look like monkey's heads.

I just spent far too much time on this.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 3:35 PM on October 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

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