You dirty jade! Wait, what?
January 15, 2008 6:42 AM   Subscribe

"He's a dirty jade!" "Go ahead and sleep with him you dirty jade!" This insult was used repeatedly in the Zola book I was reading last night. When I searched for it this morning, Google returned results for other uses in at least three other Zola novels. What does it refer to? (As the more inside explains, I think it's actually an English-language insult, as the original contains something else.)

The book I was reading: The Belly of Paris. Other Zola novels in which it appears (in translation) according to Google: L'Assommoir, Germinal, and, of course, Nana. Gutenberg returns a French text of Germinal, in which the phrase translated as "dirty jade" reads "sale rosse," which should be "dirty bitch" in English, but I guess Havelock Ellis!?! the first English translator (1894) thought that was too salacious for a sex researcher to attach his name to.

After some digging, I can find some 19th century English uses via Google books, some in prose, and at least three in French (or Cornish)-->English dictionaries. The most fascinating from the Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum of a translation from Cornish, the earliest from 1756. All of these translation usages use the phrase "dirty jade" as different derogatory words for women. Plos (Cornish), bougresse, poissarde.

So, my question remains, what the hell does it mean? Also, why does it seem to be so closely associated with translations from French, when it clearly is used to refer to different French words? (In the case of the translation of The Belly of Paris that I'm currently reading, which is a recent translation, my guess is that the translator chose to use a word used extensively by other translators of Zola, but I could be wrong about that.)
posted by OmieWise to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A jade is an adulteress. Your trouble may lie in searching out the phrase rather than the word "jade" on its own.
posted by amro at 6:49 AM on January 15, 2008

Best answer: According to the OED, a jade is a

1. A contemptuous name for a horse; a horse of inferior breed, e.g. a cart- or draught-horse as opposed to a riding horse; a roadster, a hack; a sorry, ill-conditioned, wearied, or worn-out horse; a vicious, worthless, ill-tempered horse; rarely applied to a donkey.

The first usage is found in the Canterbury Tales, so one might infer that the term has its roots in Middle English, or was at least a known insult at that time. Though I usually try to avoid folk-entymology, it doesn't take much of a cognitive leap to go from "weary, worn out horse" to "weary, worn out whore", and I would venture that this might have been a secondary meaning for the term (Chaucer is famous for his double-entendres)

2. A term of reprobation applied to a woman. Also used playfully, like hussy or minx.

first use: ~1560
posted by Chrischris at 7:01 AM on January 15, 2008

Response by poster: Ah, thanks, amro. I didn't search for jade alone because of all the confounding stuff I would have to wade through, but it was very clear from context (several different ones) that it's a term of abuse. At least in the translations it's much more general than adulteress.

Still, I'm more interested in why the term "jade," the word itself, came to be abusive this way. So goo's answer is right up the street I'm interested in. Thanks!
posted by OmieWise at 7:03 AM on January 15, 2008

Huh, so "jade" and "nag" are synonymous when it comes to horses, but have fairly different connotations when it comes to women!
posted by amro at 7:10 AM on January 15, 2008

(although both are derogatory, of course.)
posted by amro at 7:11 AM on January 15, 2008

"...a sorry, ill-conditioned, wearied, or worn-out horse;"

In other words, a jaded horse.
posted by Floydd at 8:03 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, the OED just about wraps up the English end of things, which just goes to show that I've got to get mine out of storage.

Any ideas on the French Connection?
posted by OmieWise at 8:20 AM on January 15, 2008

Best answer: the phrase translated as "dirty jade" reads "sale rosse," which should be "dirty bitch" in English.

Nope: a "rosse" is a "bad horse" (mauvais cheval) in French, so "jade" is more appropriate than "bitch".
(In the French translation, the bad horse of Don Quixote is called Rossinante.)
posted by bru at 8:52 AM on January 15, 2008

Oops: my mistake: "Rossinante" seems to be the original name in Spanish.
posted by bru at 8:58 AM on January 15, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks bru. One of the French-English dictionaries from the 19th century that I linked above confirms the definition you linked, defining rosse as "A jade, a sorry horse." When I checked the definition this morning, I clearly used the wrong dictionary.

That clears up the Zola issue, but makes it even more curious that other French words meaning very different things would get translated as "jade," since there is a word in French that is properly and literally translated that way.

Rossinante is the name in all the English translations (which makes sense, since names are not usually translated per se), but I clearly didn't get the joke.

Man, I've never posted a question that's made me feel more stupid.
posted by OmieWise at 9:12 AM on January 15, 2008

So what about the similar "jaded?" It has a very different connotation, one more closely aligned with "bored due to over-exposure to worldly pursuits" or "cynical."
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:59 AM on January 15, 2008

I love language-y questions. Don't feel stupid, Omie.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:00 AM on January 15, 2008

So what about the similar "jaded?"
Same word.


[f. JADE v. + -ED1.]

1. Worn out or exhausted; fatigued; fagged out.

1693 SIR C. SEDLEY Prol. to H. Higden's Wary Widdow, Their Jaded Muse is distanc'd in the Course. 1798 BLOOMFIELD Farmer's Boy, Summer 106 Unwittingly his jaded eyelids close. 1809 BYRON Bards & Rev. 145 Each spurs his jaded Pegasus apace. 1865 LECKY Ration. (1878) II. 319 Charming away the weariness of the jaded mind.
2. Dull or sated by continual use or indulgence.

1631 R. BRATHWAIT Eng. Gentlew. (1641) 305 Former times were not so jaded to fashions as to esteeme nothing formall, but what was phantasticall. 1744 ARMSTRONG Preserv. Health II. 158 To spur beyond Its wiser will the jaded appetite. 1828 W. SEWELL Oxf. Prize Ess. 39 Nature was tortured in every way to stimulate the jaded palate.
3. ? Regarded with contempt. Obs.

1593 SHAKES. 2 Hen. VI, IV. i. 52 The honourable blood of Lancaster Must not be shed by such a iaded Groome.
Hence jadedly adv., in a jaded or fatigued manner; jadedness, the state of being worn out.

1885 HOWELLS Silas Lapham (1891) II. 132 Lapham listened jadedly, and answered far from the point. 1896 A. J. WILSON in Westm. Gaz. 27 Apr. 8/1 Days..saddened by incessant toil, performed in weakness of body and jadedness of brain. 1899 B. HARRADEN Fowler vi. 49 The worldliness fled from her soul, the jadedness from her spirit.
posted by Floydd at 10:27 AM on January 15, 2008

The Calormen prince The Horse and His Boy refers to Queen Susan as a false jade, so it's not exclusively translated French works.

I think it's essentially the feminine form of rake, in meaning and roughly time period of common usage.
posted by fidelity at 12:25 PM on January 15, 2008

I'm very likely wrong, but I think NPR woke me up this morning with some story about the word "frail" as meaning a woman.
posted by exogenous at 7:00 PM on January 17, 2008

"Frail" was current slang for a woman from the early 1900s through at least 1931 when Cab Calloway used it in "Minnie the Moocher".
posted by fidelity at 10:20 PM on January 18, 2008

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