Monday, April 9, 2012

Today's Word: oubliette

French words like this always sound mysterious and classy. Oubliette in particular just rolls out of my mouth. It sounds like a word you'd hear at a ballet rehearsal: "Pas de deux. Then plie and pirouette. And finish with a grand oubliette." It sounds sweet, and delicate, and intricate.

But it isn't.

Natalia Dudinskaya in ''attitude en pointe
"I can almost reach the door!"
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An oubliette isn't a dance move. On the whole, ballerinas (and everyone else) avoid any time spent in an oubliette.

There was a time when, if you broke a law, spoke ill of the king, or just angered the wrong noble, you would be tossed in the dungeon. The worst cell in the dungeon had to be the oubliette. Being cast into the oubliette could mean a fate worse than death, especially if the dungeon was prone to flooding. Or rats. Or floods of rats.

The word comes from the French (and thus ultimately from Latin) oublier, "to forget." And that hints at why one would be tossed into an oubliette — to be forgotten.

An oubliette is a particularly nasty cell in a dungeon. The only way into or out of it is through a trapdoor in the ceiling. That trapdoor is also the only way for fresh air to come in and stale air to go out, and for food (if you were lucky enough to get any) to be dropped to you.

("It rubs the lotion on its skin.")
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