I learned a new word today. Actually an old word, but I don't recall ever seeing it before. I happened to discover that I could download a free copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel on Kindle, and as I was passing the time at the Laundromat, I did just that. (Funny, Google just capitalized Laundromat, and that was something I didn't know to do either. Further research may be required.) Anyway, waiting for the clothes to dry, and already done with the book I'd brought, I decided to try out the opening pages. And it starts out pretty well. All the aristocrats, or "aristos" in Baroness Orczy's terms, are trying to flee the city limits of Paris and make it to England in order to escape the guillotine, and the guards at the gate are having a cat and mouse sort of game with them.
"Men in women's clothes, women in male attire, children disguised in beggars' rags: there were some of all sorts: ci-devant counts, marquises, even dukes, who wanted to fly from France, reach England or some other equally accursed country, and there try to rouse foreign feelings against the glorious Revolution, or to raise an army in order to liberate the wretched prisoners in the Temple, who had once called themselves sovereigns of France."
Sometimes when you encounter a strange word on Kindle, the little look-up function is not so good--try reading a Northern Irish crime novel sometime--but ci-devant seems to be well within its capacity. In French:
ci: here; devant: before, in other words heretofore. And in other, other words the ci-devant aristos are those who were previously aristos, but no longer.
|The Baroness herself.|
It's funny, perhaps, that the word has fallen out of use when so much French came over the Channel and stuck. But maybe it's because there is a plethora of such words in English. Plethora in its sense of overabundance, of too muchness. Because we not only have "heretofore", but I also thought of "erstwhile", and just now, the word "hitherto". Apparently, ci--devant is really only best when you are trying to capture the turmoil of the French Revolution.