TartuffeOn Wednesday I woke up with a wry neck. Painful and not so good as I was due to play in a golf competition, but mostly, I was disappointed for once to live in an English-speaking environment, because the French word for this annoying condition is much nicer: torticolis. It was first introduced in French in the 16th century by Rabelais in his novel Pantagruel. It was spelled tortycolly and was borrowed from Italian torti colli, plural of torto collo (from Latin tortus “crooked, twisted” and collum “neck”), referring to a religious hypocrite or bigot, who adopts this ostentatious posture in a show of piety. I was pleased to find an illustration of Molière’s Tartuffe, who is probably the most famous religious hypocrite in French literature, striking this pose.
Then on Saturday night I tried to get free medical advice from a doctor friend at a party (“It’s nothing, stop whinging” was her considered diagnostic – I have blogged before about how difficult it is for sensitive French people to adapt to British-style “you’re not dying so you’re ok” approach to health care), and it turned out that torticollis is also used in English, but mostly by health professionals.