Use of "cigale" in English.

James Brandon

Senior Member
English + French - UK
In "The Alexandria Quartet - Justine", Lawrence Durrell writes (page 174, Faber, 1961 ed.), about Justine, the heroine: "Justine was placing a cigale made of gold on the lobe of her left ear [...]."

I am intrigued by the use of "cigale". On the one hand, the author often uses French words in the novel. On the other, would "cigale" have a special meaning in English. E.g.: an adornment in the shape of a cicada.

Strictly speaking, "cigale" in French is "cicada" in English. In La Fontaine's fable, "La Cigale et la Fourmi", "cigale" is often rendered in English as "The grasshopper and the ant" because the insect referred to is a grasshopper in Aesop's original fable.

There is a Thread on the above (the fable etc.) on this Forum.
  • sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The only time I've ever heard cigale in English was 30+ years ago when a drug-running boat by that name was intercepted by the Coast Guard off the Oregon coast.


    Senior Member
    British English
    I have not read the work but "Justine" sounds like a French name; could he simply be using the word that she would have employed to describe her own jewellery? It's just a wild guess.

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Durrell's cosmpopolitan background is obvious in almost everything he wrote. He was much more attracted to the Mediterranean than to Britain, and I don't think you should be surprised that he should use a French word to describe an insect which isn't found much, if at all, in the UK. I agree it's not the standard English word. It has no special meaning that I know of. I wonder if the earring was made in France, or if that is what he wishes to suggest.

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Grubble, you would need to read the - excellent - novel: Justine has a French-sounding name but is not French. But most of the educated characters in pre-war Egypt, in the novel, be they locals or British, speak French or use French, since the story takes place in Alexandria, or near it, to a large extent.

    One may assume that L Durrell - a cosmopolitan writer indeed, who did not care much for England, which he referred to as "Pudding Island" :D - is using a French word simply to make it sound more interesting. You are right in that there are many French words scattered across the novel.

    Ok, so that has answered the question I put, i.e. "cigale" has no particular meaning in English. We know that the correct word in English is "cicada". We also know that cicadas are not found in the UK: Brighton does not have the same climate as Saint-Tropez - not yet at any rate. As for Aberdeen...

    If you do a Google search, "cigale" does come up extensively in English, but in references to the French, or French-related things, or "a divertissement-ballet in two acts by Jules Massenet" (Wikipedia).

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