Thursday, 10 November 2011

Hibou or chouette?

The Owl of Chavagnes
When the Owl of Chavagnes came into our lives, we had to know what manner of creature it was. Of course in English this is easy... It is an owl. But, as it turns out, there are two main words for owl in French. There is 'L'hibou' which means 'owl', and 'La chouette', which means, 'owl'.

The Little Owl - Athene nocturna
When the Owl of Chavagnes was revealed to the boys, amid gasps of astonishment and open eyed amazement, the hushed murmur ran round the Refectory... "Mais, c'est la chouette". The reverence was palpable. I believe that even if they had never set eyes on the Owl of Chavagnes before, somehow its essence, its existence, which had seeped into and oozed from the very building and spirit of the School, had given them a readiness, an openness to knowing the Owl when it arrived. It could come as no surprise that those who had never thought of the Owl, would immediately recognise it when it came. For which boy, or man for that matter, is not really waiting for such a thing as the Owl of Chavagnes, and is not ready to welcome it when it comes?

The Long-eared Owl - Asio otus
note the ears
How then are we to understand the acclamation: "Mais, c'est la chouette"? Are we to call the Owl La chouette, or L'hibou?

Will we recognise it at its coming?
Will we call it by its proper name?
Will it answer to another title?

Is it La chouette de Chavagnes or L'hibou de Chavagnes and what will the consequences of a miss-title be? Such things rightly tax us. But one thing we do know for certain, the Owl is here, and our lives are accordingly different.

Professor Augustus Barclay Yaffle - well known Owl, possible related to the Owl of Chavagnes.
Both show an understanding and wisdom which at first sight seems proud and haughty, but which on closer inspection can be seen to come from a deep and abiding concern for those around them.
Or, as one of the Masters said it might be that the French have more words for an Owl than the English. And it may be all to do with the tuftiness of the ears.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...