Chez what?

A colleague who works on French and English texts was musing lately on French place names such as “Chez Pierre” and how in English we would deal with a place name starting with a preposition – her example was “At Pete’s Place.” Could we say “The party is at At Pete’s Place”?

Part of the issue, of course, is that in English we don’t normally use that kind of prepositional construction in place names. But a parallel could be found in a synopsis of Of Human Bondage or perhaps if you looked into Into the Woods or cast your eyes on On the Waterfront, and perhaps glanced at At Fault (by Kate Chopin)…

You can’t get away from the fact that At is part of the name. If you don’t like the at-at, then rewrite! But short of going out with a chainsaw and cutting the At off the sign (as one colleague suggested), you can’t change the name of the place – articles (a, the) may be dispensable, but articles are specifiers on noun phrase heads, whereas prepositions are heads of prepositional phrases, and you can’t cut off heads so glibly. (An argument may be made as to the role of the prepositional phrase as a case proxy for its complement noun phrase, but we can’t avoid the overt syntactic realization and its entailments.)

And anyway, heads though they be, prepositions are usually unstressed except at the beginning of a name, so it’s not quite so awkward, as we have seen above.

2 responses to “Chez what?

  1. A severer collision is found in French itself: aujourd’hui. The old French word for ‘today’, hui, comes from the Latin hodie, a contraction of hoc die, ‘on this day’. So aujourd’hui means ‘on the day of on this day’.

  2. Often adverbs are confused with prepsositions. What may seem like preposition may not be prepositions!

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