It is extremely rare that I answer an English quiz question correctly and when, miraculously, I do, it’s normally because it’s related to the French language, so it’s never entirely satisfying. For a French translator, there is really no glory in knowing that the English word “puce” was borrowed from the French word meaning “flea”. However, I was intrigued by the shift from insect to colour, so I had to look it up. I now know that it is used to describe a brownish pink colour because it’s the colour of the belly of a flea (or of a squashed flea, or of flea droppings, as Wikipedia tells us). I also learnt that “puce” is used in the same sense in French, but exclusively in the fashion industry, and that it is a colour popular in the Goth sub-culture. I did know, obviously, that it is a term of endearment in French.


“brownish-purple,” 1787, from French puce “flea-color; flea,” from Latin pucilem (nominative pulex) “flea”. That it could be generally recognised as a color seems a testimony to our ancestors’ intimacy with vermin.

By |2016-10-18T15:48:22+00:00June 14th, 2016|Words|2 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Michael October 14, 2016 at 9:00 am - Reply

    Hello Celine,

    thanks for this nice post. There are many words in English coming from French (as latin base). Dr. Paul Pimsleur had a nice podcast about that, how we can fast pick up a little French, just based on knowledge of English language.

  2. Spanish translator March 2, 2018 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    I love your blog, so many new words to learn!

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