dimanche 30 janvier 2011

Parole [English]

Le présent billet a été rédigé par Jonathan Goldberg, que je remercie. Une traduction en français sera publiée prochainement.

The French word parole is from Middle French, itself from the Late Latin word parabola, meaning speech.

In French parole is often used simply to mean speech, e.g. perdre la parole, prendre la parole, des paroles blessantes, etc. (The plural form, paroles, often refers to the lyrics of a song.) But parole is also used to suggest a promise that has been given or an affirmation that has been made by one person, on which others may or may not rely.

The English noun “word” is often used in the context of written or spoken speech, e.g. The book contained many unintelligible words; he uttered only one word.

But “word” may be used in the particular sense of a promise or an affirmation and in those cases the matching French word is often parole, as used in the following expressions:

he gave me his word
to break one's word
to hold somebody to his/her word
 a woman of her word
to take somebody 's word for it
to doubt somebody's word
take my word for it!
to go back on one's word
to be as good as one's word
il m'a donné sa parole
ne pas tenir parole
obliger quelqu’un à tenir parole
une femme de parole
croire quelqu’un sur parole
douter des paroles de quelqu’un
crois-moi!
revenir sur sa promesse
tenir parole

In short, both parole and “word” have a general sense, as well as the particular sense of a promise given or an affirmation made, as in the nine expressions listed above.

In this particular sense, parole entered the English language originally to mean “a promise made with or confirmed by a pledge of one's honor (1); especially : the promise of a prisoner of war to fulfill (2) stated conditions in consideration of his release.” (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary). A Parole agreement referred to consent given by a POW to his captors to fulfill stated conditions, such as not to bear arms or not to escape, in consideration of special privileges, such as release from captivity or lessened restraint.


This new English word was taken from the French parole d’honneur.  It later acquired a similar meaning in relation to criminal prisoners. In that sense it came to mean “a conditional release of a prisoner serving an indeterminate or unexpired sentence.” (MW) We now talk of a prisoner being released on parole if a parole board approves his early release. The French translation, which paradoxically makes no use of parole, is liberation conditionnelle.

(1)   British spelling: honour
(2) British spelling: fulfil

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