The lady is a beau? 
Posted: 14 March 2007 05:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Admittedly the London Times is no longer the bastion of good English that it once was (they seem to have given up the distinction between “may” and might” entirely), but even so I was startled to read last Saturday, in this report of a spin doctor’s wedding, that the bride was “a former beau of [ex-Conservative Party leader] William Hague”. It does not appear in the report that the bride has ever undergone a sex change, so apparently the writer believes that “beau” can be used in the sense “romantic friend of either gender”.

Can it? I have never heard this usage before, and to me it sounds utterly bizarre. Has anyone else? And does it strike you as weird?

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Posted: 14 March 2007 05:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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To these American ears, “beau” sounds stilted, regardless of sex (or gender, for that matter).  It certainly isn’t in my active vocabulary, except perhaps as a jocular usage.  If this is the case in Britain as well, it may well be that the writer has lost track of the niceties of gender.  His greater literary crime, however, would be affected language.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I don’t think I’ve ever heard “beau” used in contemporary British English; I associate it solely with 18th and 19th century literature. My first reaction was to wonder whether it was an import from America, since I understand you do use “belle” in some contexts in Leftpondia (as in “Southern belle"), which I don’t think has been routinely used in Rightpondia since the 1950s, when journalists still used the term “bathing belle” to caption pictures of girls in skimpy swimsuits. Evidently not.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’d never thought of the sex of a beau, but now that you mention it, I’ve never heard it used to refer to a woman. The traditional definition is indeed “boyfriend.” The two usage books I consulted both address the plural form, but not the definition, so I’m assuming the authors weren’t aware of any use meaning “girlfriend.” Unless there is some scandal brewing with Mr. Hague, I would take this as an error on the part of the Times, but a forgivable one (defined as an error I might have been prone to make) because the word is so rare.

Here in Leftpondia, beau is stilted and old-fashioned, but one does hear it occasionally. Belle is not in active use, aside from catchphrases like southern belle and belle of the ball.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The appropriate defintion in the brick and mortar OED is The attendant or suitor of a lady; a lover, sweetheart. My reading of this is that it does not specify the sex of the beau but of the person to whom the beau is attached.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Boy, that shows you the unexamined assumptions you can make.  I was mindboggled that anybody could use “beau” to refer to a woman, when it occurred to me that the reason its masculinity was so obvious to me was that I’d studied French, and not everyone has studied French.  I chastised myself vigorously.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Boy, that shows you the unexamined assumptions you can make

Where journalists and politicians are involved, it’s unsafe to assume anything

M.P (to fellow-member): I say! Did you hear about Trenchard-Smythe?
Fellow-member: No, what about him?
M.P: I understand he’s having a love affair with a horse.
F.M. Good Lord! Male or female?
M.P. Oh, female. Nothing really the matter with Trenchard-Smythe.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Faldage - 14 March 2007 06:43 AM

The appropriate defintion in the brick and mortar OED is The attendant or suitor of a lady; a lover, sweetheart. My reading of this is that it does not specify the sex of the beau but of the person to whom the beau is attached.

That still doesn’t fit the case in the OP, though. The person referred to as the beau had been attached to William Hague, who may be many things, but he’s not a lady.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 05:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Come, come! Even Disney knows the distinction. There’s a whole animated experience surrounding Beauty and the Beast in which the female protagonist is named “Belle”. If you go to Disneyland you can see the real deal in the flesh, as my daughter did to her great enjoyment and satisfaction.

It may be outdated by now but I also remember hearing “every belle has her beau” or vice versa. And “Bo” can only be a male Southerner (short for Beauregard I believe), or an athlete who competed in both football and baseball, thereby suffering irreperable burnout and oblivion in the public eye. Please, the first point in pedagogy is that people live up to other people’s expectations of them. The second point is repetition, repetition, repetiton, until it sinks in.

There once was a farmer who claimed, to the disbelief of his fellow agrarians, that he could make any mule follow his commands. Mules are known for being, well, somewhat mulish on the point of obedience. A nearby tiller of the soil had a mule that could never be made to giddyup when wanted so he consulted (challenged) Farmer A to make the mule do its work. Farmer A strolled over mid-morning around sevenish, a couple of hours after his first breakfast, and said “What’s here, Farmer B, can’t get yer animal in motion?” So he hitched up the mule to a plow and after a couple of moments of thought hit the beast square between the eyes with a handy 2x4 as hard as he could. “Now, giddap!” The mule started pulling the plow as pleasant as you please. “You see” said Farmer A, “it’s not so much a matter of getting ‘em to do what you want as getting their attention first.” Students are a lot like that. They can be made to learn but you have to get their attention first.

Oh, political correctness, where is thy sting?

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Posted: 14 March 2007 06:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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And “Bo” can only be a male Southerner (short for Beauregard I believe), or an athlete who competed in both football and baseball,

Tell it to Ms. Derek.

thereby suffering irreperable burnout and oblivion in the public eye.

That part sounds about right.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 11:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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TFT: his Bo Derek to my Bo Duke.

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Posted: 14 March 2007 11:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Maybe the woman is Cockney?  One of those beau belles you hear in that part of town?  <runs and hides>

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Posted: 15 March 2007 05:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Faldage - 14 March 2007 06:43 AM

The appropriate defintion in the brick and mortar OED is The attendant or suitor of a lady; a lover, sweetheart. My reading of this is that it does not specify the sex of the beau but of the person to whom the beau is attached.

My reading is that our good friends at Oxford have a rather quaint conception of the possible combinations of suitors and suitees.  If I saw “beau” applied the the suitor of a lady who was herself a lady, I would wonder whether this were an error, or playing into a common stereotype about lesbians.

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Posted: 15 March 2007 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Richard Hershberger - 15 March 2007 05:40 AM

My reading is that our good friends at Oxford have a rather quaint conception of the possible combinations of suitors and suitees.

I didn’t mean to imply that the Oxonians had that in mind when they crafted that definition, merely that it left open the possibility.

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Posted: 15 March 2007 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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jimgorman - 15 March 2007 05:34 AM

ElizaD - 14 March 2007 11:14 PM
TFT: his Bo Derek to my Bo Duke.

And I raise you a Bo Black. (A Milwaukee Wisconsin Icon who is currently in seriously bad health)

Up in Wisconsin I’ll wager that Bo is the Norse name Bo, from a nickname derived from Old Norse bua to “live”, according to BehindTheName.com.

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