What Does The French Text on The Drawing Say?
May 16, 2012 12:35 PM   Subscribe

French speaking friends on Ask Mefi - Can you please tell me what the text on this drawing says? Full drawing. Close up.
posted by extrabox to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It says the lower portion of the pelican's beak stretches to the point where it could envelope a man's head.
posted by miaou at 12:40 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oops, that should say "envelop".
posted by miaou at 12:46 PM on May 16, 2012

miaou, have I transcribed it correctly?:

"la partie inferieuse du bec du pelican l'ettend, au point qu'elle peut envelopper la tête d'un homme"?
posted by ambrosen at 12:48 PM on May 16, 2012

"The interior part of the beak of a pelican extends itself to the point that it can envelop a man's head."
posted by milk white peacock at 12:50 PM on May 16, 2012

It's "inférieure", i.e., "lower". The cross on the f is way high up, which isn't an unusual thing to see in 20th century French handwriting.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:20 PM on May 16, 2012

I'm reading it as "la partie inférieure du bec du pelican s'extende, au point ..."
posted by librarina at 1:22 PM on May 16, 2012

.... which is seems like a pretty strange observation - until one notices a page dedicated to strange contortions that pelicans can make with their beaks.
posted by rongorongo at 1:53 PM on May 16, 2012

Response by poster: Merci beaucoup! I appreciate all the answers!
posted by extrabox at 1:58 PM on May 16, 2012

It's a mix of old handwriting and old spellings, so it's natural that it lends itself to a bit of modern-day confusion.

"La partie inférieure du bec du pélican s'éttend au point qu'elle peut envelopper la tête d'un homme"

s'éttend = s'étend, the verb s'étendre. Miaou has the translation.

Kind of interesting, s'éttendre might have been a spelling between the ancien français estendillier1 and the modern s'étendre. Makes sense though, es often became é. Could also "just" be a misspelling, looks an awful lot like attendre (to wait), and that sort of mistake is made commonly enough by native French speakers/writers nowadays. Being a French nerd, I looked up the image with TinEye and got nothing. Where did you find this? Is there a source and/or date for it?

1 - Lexique de l'ancien français, de J. Bonnard et Am. Salmon, Paris, 1994
posted by fraula at 1:58 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the additional info fraula. A friend purchased the drawing, I don't know the provenance or anything, and we were just intrigued as to any additional clues the text might offer. I believe it to be early to mid 19th century, but that's about all, and even that is just a guess.
posted by extrabox at 2:02 PM on May 16, 2012

Sounds about right. This moyen français entry for étendre has it as estendre, so éttendre could easily have been an intermediate spelling.
posted by fraula at 2:12 PM on May 16, 2012

In medieval times Pelican parents were believed to feed their offspring their own blood - so they got used in a whole lot of Christian allegorical drawings - particularly in France. Here is a very comprehensive list of old pelican drawings. The author of this page, Donna Hrynkiw, claims she is a Member of the Order of the Pelican - so she might be able to suggest who the artist was.
posted by rongorongo at 3:23 PM on May 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks rongorongo that's really interesting. I'll pass the additional info on to my friend.
posted by extrabox at 4:37 PM on May 16, 2012

The Order of the Pelican is an award given within the Society for Creative Anachronism for (I think) achievement in the arts, so I doubt that Ms. Hrynkiw would by virtue of that have any insight into 19th or early 20th century French naturalists.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:27 PM on May 16, 2012

I would translate the verb as "expands".
posted by gohabsgo at 12:33 PM on May 17, 2012

Here's what can be pieced together from Google: an African pelican was brought "to Paris from Turkey" by a certain sieur Chequer who exhibited it as a curiosity at the Foire Saint-Germain in 1750, then a popular venue for this kind of wonders (a rhinoceros was displayed there in 1749). Mr Chequer showed the size of the pelican's poach by putting his head in it (or probably under it) (1769). This became part of pelican lore (Buffon, 1771) and a popular zoo trick: a London zookeeper in 1833 was pulling a pelican's poach over his head "like a cap", for tips (the pelican in the Paris zoo was not "tamed enough to allow such liberties"). Probably the novelty wore off in the mid-19th, as pelicans were no longer half-mythical creatures.
The spelling "s'éttend" (with 2 t) can be found in this book from 1736 but not (for instance) in Buffon's Histoire naturelle in 1799 so perhaps the image was drawn by a person who witnessed the 1750 exhibition.
posted by elgilito at 2:56 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican!
His bill holds more than his belican.
He can take in his beak Enough food for a week.
But I'm darned if I know how the helican.

Limerick by Dixon Lanier Merritt in 1910.

Pelican pouches are made from "gular skin" which is, indeed, very stretchy. According to this article a pelican pouch can accommodate about 11 litres - more than enough for a human head (5 litres or so). So the claim looks like it would be technically possible.
posted by rongorongo at 4:55 AM on May 18, 2012

« Older Buying a shirt for skinnyfat dude w/long arms in...   |   Survival Horror Game? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.