Sunday, February 5, 2017


From the Gilmore Girls episode “The Nanny and the Professor” (January 20, 2004). The episode begins with Rory and Lorelai discussing a plural form. Rory: “It’s culs-de-sac.” Lorelai: “No way!” Lorelai adds that culs-de-sac “doesn’t even sound like English.” Rory: “That’s because it’s French.”

The Oxford English Dictionary and Webster’s Second give culs-de-sac as the plural. Webster’s Third adds “also cul-de-sacs.” But Garner’s Modern American Usage (2003) gives cul-de-sacs as the proper plural. Bryan Garner says that with some exceptions (for instance, faits accomplis), “the trend is to anglicize French plurals.” That observation holds in Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016), which adds that culs-de-sac was “a common variant until about 1940,” now outnumbered by cul-de-sacs, 4:1. (The ratio comes from Google’s Ngram Viewer).

I’m amused that the French for “sack-bottom” or “bag-bottom” has become a favored term of American realtors. But as Rory might say, “That’s because it’s French.” I’m not sure it occurred to me until this morning that I am living on a cul-de-sac. I always thought I was living on a dead-end street. But not the one in the Kinks song.

Related reading
“William Safire Orders Two Whoppers Junior” (The Onion)

[In imaginary towns like Stars Hollow and Pleasantville, all streets are either cul-de-sacs or endless loops. My Super Bowl prediction: Gilmore Girls 3, Super Bowl 0.]

comments: 2

Elaine Fine said...

We encountered the term when we were looking for an apartment in Illinois for the first time. I wondered why our realtor was talking about the bottom of a bag when referring to locations. I grew up on a dead end.

Michael Leddy said...

I’m still growing up on one. :)