Americans have long butchered foreign tongues, and no language has gotten it in the neck quite so badly as French. Though our Canadian neighbors parlez-vous from time to time, it hasn’t mattered one whit. Be it the over-Frenchification of certain Yanks who store their mem-whaws in their arm-whaws to the over-Americanizing of that fine school in South Bend, Noter Daym, we chew up and spit out la belle langue like an oversalted plate of freedom frites. And little sounds tinnier to a furniture aficionado than a Midwestern drawl or a clipped New Englander’s patter wrapping itself around the undisputed don of outdoor relaxation: the Chaze Lounge. Long gone is the lingual longue of the French chaise longue (literally “long chair”) in favor of a pronunciation as lazy as the lounger.
In the language dodge this is called an “eggcorn” (after a commonly misheard variant on “acorn”), an incorrect or bowdlerized term of art that sticks around because, well, it kind of makes sense—–after all, what ought one do on a chaise longue but lounge? And, thus, an American seating classic, as well as a fraught debate among hidebound grammarians, clucking Frenchmen, and serious poolside revelers was born. The identity crisis continues, but one thing is clear:
For all the semantic simpering, when the sun is out, there’s no place we’d rather be.
Aaron writes the men's style column "The Pocket Square" for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for the New York Times, the Times Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and others.
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