I’m reading Nancy Huston’s Dolce agonia right now. It’s a book by an Albertan author, about Americans living in the Boston area, written in French, with an Italian title. Yes, it’s written in French; Nancy Huston lives in Paris and is a very popular French author, her English name and Albertan background notwithstanding. It’s set at that quintessentially American event,* the Thanksgiving dinner with an assemblage of various persons. And everyone is speaking idiomatic American English, as translated to French (or, really, written originally in French by a native Anglophone). It’s a bit disorienting, a bit giddying, a bit like being drunk. Which, given the alcoholic consumption at this particular party (especially of the host), seems suitable.
And on page 195, the first page of chapitre X, I read today a most apposite word: ébréité.
Now, that’s a French word, and I’ll get to the English in a moment, but look at it! You see é é é – three sheets in the wind! (And, ironically, take those out and you are left with brit – one is tempted to take this as a French slur on British consumption, but actually the word comes from Latin ebrius, “drunk”.)
So if you were to translate it into English – the context is Sean est fier de son degré d’ébréité – what word would you use? Well, probably drunkenness. Now, that’s a good old English word, with its clunky and woozy sound and its three n‘s like inverted cups and its two s‘s like the result of excessive consumption. Not in the least elevated. Alternatively, if you wanted to be highfalutin, you could say inebriation.
And now here’s the trick: if inebriation means “drunkenness”, does that mean ebriation – or, as happens to be the word – ebriety is a synonym for sobriety? Nope, wrong in: this is the in that leads in, that intensifies; it’s the in of inflame. We already know what the Latin root is, and what the French is. Now you know another word for being sloshed, hammered, pisstanked, wasted, bombed, blitzed…
Of course, ebriety is a more expensive word, so one may wonder if one should reserve it for a celebrity who has had too many cl‘s.** But it’s really good for raising the tone whenever one has raised the cup. For when a fellow drinks excessively, he goes from sobriety to ebriety – so he goes from so to e, and it’s so easy! Ere long his lids are heavy e e, and he’s going from upright b to still holding his head up i to resting on his arms t to collapsed in the chair y. And then he may decide to change his beverage and call to his friend: “Ee! Bri! A tea!”
*American Thanksgiving is not like Canadian Thanksgiving. Canadian Thanksgiving is another holiday Monday, one you probably get together with family for. American Thanksgiving is on a Thursday and is a sort of national psychosis: they all have to travel somewhere the day before, and the sidewalks are rolled up on the day of, and they take the day off and probably go shopping the day after, and they all call it Turkey Day. And massive feasts are expected, and if you don’t have family readily available you probably end up with a whole bunch of other people with whom you have just that one thing in common.
**In many parts of the world beverages are sold in bottles marked in centilitres, cl.