The Cambremer Debate – Scatology 1

Scatology I – The Cambremer Debate

The following is an abbreviated exchange from the Proust list at Yahoo.

Dear list,

The name “Cambremer” is the butt of wit and ridicule that passes between Swann and the Duchesse de Guermantes. Their warm and easy friendship is demonstrated by their shared opinion of Mme Cambremer. The name unceremoniously ricochets back and forth and is taken to task. The beginning of the name is missing one syllable. The end stops short. The beginning and endings are “abbreviations.” So that the full name would be “cacambremerde.” The name is pummeled again by the lift-boy at the hotel. He introduces the ill-named lady as Mme Camembert.
Dear Sharon,

Today, I just wanted to correct your interpretation of the jokes about the name Cambremer. The joke about the name is mentioned in ‘Swann in Love’ – too lazy tonight to search for the exact reference (sorry).

As mentioned in Swann in Love, the beginning of the name is missing one syllable : that syllable is : ‘onne’ – for Cambronne! Cambronne was that French general, who, facing the charge of the enemy at the end of the battle of Waterloo (all Europe against Napoleon) became famous for having shouted ‘Merde’ and kept fighting.

From then on, the word “Merde” (caca) became euphemized as ‘le mot de Cambronne’.

The full name should be – if we follow the malignant comment of Oriane de Guermantes and Swann at the Saint-Euverte matinee – Cambronnemerde !

Dear Nicole,

Thank you! Out of your storehouse of learning, you always enrich our conversations – I remember, gratefully, a while ago your Latin citations – plus others.

Now here we have a wee dispute! If “Cambremer” is the “root name” and that root is one syllable short at the front and it “falls short” at the end, then TWO additions need to be installed to complete the “full name.” One goes AT THE FRONT of the root (a prefix) and the other AT THE END of the root (a suffix). Your explanation of the Cambronne historical reference is important – it explicates what hovers allusively in the background of this joke – thank you for that. wish I knew more history! But, doesn’t your solution “Cambronnemerde” fail AT THE FRONT? Wouldn’t the full name “Cacabremerde” fulfill these front and the back requirements – while still hauling in the (important) historical allusion?

I am totally in the blind here, since I am also too lazy tonight to hunt for the two spots – in my M/K English edition which, perhaps, could help. The French would be better …. but if I delay my date with Morpheus I could make this a longer and more complicated post – over a short matter! (;-)

Bonne nuite Nicole,
Am I missing something? I always read the pun as “Cambremerde” (I have
always pronounced ‘Cambremer’ as kahm-bruh-mare, so it’s not far to go to
add a final ‘d’).

Mark, Nicole,

True, the “Cambremer” ends badly – hence one corrects the ending by adding “de”. But the ending is not our debate. The name BEGINS badly too! NB: There is a “double abbreviation.” See quotes below. What can the bad beginning be – the bad beginning is “ca” but “ca” is an “abbreviation.” So, what is “ca” an abbreviation OF? Keeping Nicole’s historical note in mind, I claim that “ca” is an “abbreviation” of “caca” … hence I firmly hold my ground: the full unabbreviated name with its beginning-and-ending additions is Cacambremerde – not Cambremerde (Mark) or Cambronnemerde (Nicole). The result invokes Combronne – sotto voce.

Here it is 4:30 am! I am sitting at my computer laughing my head off – hoping that the neighbors will not be wakened by the lucubration of the mad woman next door. I thank you for this truly critical debate!
Hi Sharon !

I am very happy that you had a good laugh over our ‘truly critical debate’.

Two things :

It does not take a lot of learning for French-speaking people to know that ‘the word of Cambronne’ is an euphemism for ‘Merde!’;It is a pretty common phrase, and is often used in conversation. when children are present for example, people would say ‘He was very angry and used the word of Cambronne ! ‘in order not to use rude language before the little darlings. I found out about the reason for this phrase in a high-school history class about the battle of Waterloo – and had to laugh also ! Poor Cambronne who is remembered more for his rude language than for his courage (he didn’t die in the battle, by the way, and the anecdote remained a cause of embarrassment and irritation for him.)

All this to explain that for French-speaking people, the association between merde and Cambronne is very strong !

Thank you so much for giving us the text ! Surprisingly, I think it supports my interpretation rather than yours!

There is a double abbreviation indeed but from the text it seems clear that the first word which is abridged is Cambr that ‘someone ..didn’t dare to FINISH ‘(by adding -onne), the second being of course Mer which ‘ends just in time’.

In any case I find Cacambremerde so funny, that it might be a pity to have to let go of it. Let’s end this ‘critical’ debate and those ‘jokes in really charming taste’ by keeping both Cambronnemerde and Cacambremerde !


But surely these Cambremers have rather a startling name. It ends just in time, but it ends badly!” she said with a laugh.
“It begins no better.” Swann took the point.
“Yes; that double abbreviation!”
“Someone very angry and very proper who didn’t dare to finish the first word.”
“But since he couldn’t stop himself beginning the second, he’d have done better to finish the first and be done with it. I must say our jokes are in really charming taste, my dear Charles … but how tiresome it is that I never see you now,” she went on in a winning tone, “I do so love talking to you. just imagine, I couldn’t even have made that idiot Froberville see that there was anything funny about the name Cambremer. Do you agree that life is a dreadful business. It’s only when I see you that I stop feeling bored.” [SW 372-373]

Enfin ces Cambremer ont un nom bien étonnant. Il finit juste à temps, mais il finit mal ! dit-elle en riant.
– Il ne commence pas mieux, répondit Swann.
– En effet cette double abréviation !…
– C’est quelqu’un de très en colère et de très convenable qui n’a pas osé aller jusqu’au bout du premier mot.
– Mais puisqu’il ne devait pas pouvoir s’empêcher de commencer le second, il aurait mieux fait d’achever le premier pour en finir une bonne fois. Nous sommes en train de faire des plaisanteries d’un goût charmant, mon petit Charles, mais comme c’est ennuyeux de ne plus vous voir, ajouta-t-elle d’un ton câlin, j’aime tant causer avec vous.
Pensez que je n’aurais même pas pu faire comprendre à cet idiot de Froberville que le nom de Cambremer était étonnant. Avouez que la vie est une chose affreuse. Il n’y a que quand je vous vois que je cesse de m’ennuyer. “

4 thoughts on “The Cambremer Debate – Scatology 1

  1. Vas-yNicole

    But.. maybe ‘cambr-‘ is the beginning of ‘cambrousard’ which means ‘peasant’ in French.
    That’s a meek hypothesis, else I agree with Nicole.

  2. Tplt

    But.. maybe ‘cambr-‘ is the beginning of ‘cambrousard’ which means ‘peasant’ in French.
    That’s a meek hypothesis, else I agree with Nicole.

  3. Long Purple

    My master’s thesis was on Samuel Beckett, and he referenced the passage in question in his early work of literary criticism aptly entitled “Proust”.
    It is a form of cross-talk, where two speakers alternate comments on a subject in a repartee exchange — one which Beckett noted occurred here between Swan and Orione De Guermantes.

  4. Sonia Mindlin

    Thank you so much for your comments! I’m reading in Portuguese and truly appreciate your explanations in French LOL!



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