French Language Blog

The Real French Captain Sparrow: SURCOUF! Posted by on Mar 7, 2011 in Vocabulary

Brave crew of the French Blog ship: À l’abordage ! (Stand by to board!)

While the personnage of Jack Sparrow remains nothing more than a Disney fictional concoction aimed primarily at entertaining the masses of moviegoers, the existence of a legendary French Pirate -or rather “corsaire“, s’il vous plaît!- who went by the quasi-onomatopoeian nickname of SURCOUF is bel et bien établie (all very well established.)

Before a Captain Sparrow, there was a SURCOUF!

But before telling you more on this héros des mers (hero of the seas), une mise au point (a clarifying note) is actually de mise (appropriate):

Whether in English or French, many people tend to hold the terms pirate and corsaire (in English “corsair”) as interchangeable or even simply synonymous.

En fait (in fact), history shows us that it is far from being the case.

Un corsaire, who is also called a “corsair” or a “privateer” in English, is any individual who operates on behalf of a sovereign government or a monarch, as opposed to mere pirates who plunder ships for their own benefit.

Furthermore, acorsaire ought to possess a specially signed document, called une lettre de marque (in English a “letter of marque”), also known as une lettre de la course. So essentially, instead of being “licences to killà-la-007, these letters, which correspond to what is today known as un décret (decree) are mostly “licences to steal“—in the sole interest of the national security, of course!

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So who is Surcouf?

And is Surcouf his vrai nom (true name)?

Oui, Surcouf was no nickname.

Robert Surcouf was truly his name. He was born in 1773 in the port city of Saint-Malo, on la Manche (the English Channel), in the northwest of France. The inhabitants of this Breton city, widely famous throughout the ages for being a corsaire hotbed, are called “Malouins” or “Malouines” (Hence the origin of the name of the “les îles Malouines” near Argentina, or in Spanish “Islas Malvinas“, which the British still obstinately call the Falkland Islands…)

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The song of the “Surcouf” movie (By Les Compagnons de la Chanson)

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La suite pour le post prochain!
(To Be Continued…)

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