En Passant par La Lorraine

I learnt to sing this song as a child, and didn’t think too much about what it meant *

Recently, I began to wonder.

“Passing by Lorraine (with my shoes), I met three captains (with my shoes)…”

What on earth is this all about? And what have the shoes to do with it?

It seems to need singing with a wierd accent too - voicing all the terminal "e"s. I assume that would make it rather old…
*yes, this is a google translation, but I think it’s not too mangled, apart from “It gave me for New Year’s gift” and not knowing what “Dondaine” means

That’s one of the better Google translations I’ve seen… it has successfully rendered an incomprehensible French song into incomprehensible English.

‘Dondaine’ seems to be a name, although this site seems to think that it’s the French equivalent of ‘doobie-doobie-doo’.

As for what it all means, search me. Nursery rhymes often don’t make a lot of sense. ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, anyone?

There’s a modern French expression “avec mes (tes/ses) gros sabots” which means without sophistication or subtlety.

I suspect the sabot reference in the song is that the narrator is a peasant, and the prince still thinks he/she is hot.

NB sabot means clog - wooden shoe - cf sabotage

étrennes might confirm this - in modern French this is the traditional year end gift people give to those who serve them (typically building supers)

Pronouncing the final syllables is common in certain regions, and even more common in songs ! Helps with meter…

Do you have family from Lorraine Aspidistra ?

OK, here goes.

Apart from being a traditional French folk song, it’s also a piece of 1880s low-key propaganda. It’s based on an older song called En m’en revenant de Rennes (“Returning from Rennes” - capital of Brittany), but they niftily rewrote it a bit in 1885 for two reasons. First of all, they’d just made school compulsory, and there were precious few folk songs in standard French, most being in various dialects and regional languages, and they needed some. Second, the substitution of Lorraine for Rennes ensured that no-one would lose sight of the fact that the bastard Prussians had annexed Alsace and Lorraine after the 1870 war, and that when the kids grew up they had to go and give the Prussians a damned good hiding and take these regions back. Which they did.

Here’s a translation of the song.

Passing through Lorraine in my clogs
I met three captains
With my dum-de-dum (dondaine clogs
O-ho O-ho with my clogs.

They called me ugly
With my clogs
I’m not that ugly
Since the king’s son loves me (NB: except that there was no king at the time and there isn’t going to be anytime soon either)
O-ho O-ho with my clogs.

He gave me as a present
A verveine bush (you make herbal tea with it, I don’t know what you call it in English, and it’s pretty nasty too)
If it blooms I’ll be queen,
If it dies I’ll lose my pain
O-ho with my clogs.

Like many folk songs, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

Did they grow verveine as a fuel substitute for chicken guano Zorro ?

PS tu interpréterais pas plutôt “je perds ma peine” comme “peine perdue” - wasted time ?

That’s the way I always understood that line. “Peine” in this context doesn’t mean “pain” or “sorrow”, but “effort”. As in: “Ça ne vaut pas la peine”, “it’s not worth the trouble”.

Dondaine, as Zorro’s translation shows, is nonsense and only there for phonetic value. Here’s an example of fairly heavy use of nonsense words in a French folk song:

C’est la belle Françoise lon gai
C’est la belle Françoise
Qui veut s’y marier maluron, lurette
Qui veut s’y marier, maluron, luré

The bolded words are meaningless.

Vervaine is “verbena” in English.

It’s not a bad idea, the stuff is awful, you may as well use it for something useful. Frankly I think that young royals taking advantage of poor girls by pretending that the gift of a second rate aromatic plant is a possible passport to riches, power and social status is a disgraceful confidence trick. Alternately that girl was a complete mythomaniac, and I hope that those captains were decent chaps. Although this sounds unlikely given the way they speak to her. Oh, and given the fact that they are, after all, in the military.

T’as peut-etre raison, mais ca ne veut pas dire grand chose d’une maniere ou de l’autre.

Everyone, we’ve changed our minds: actually, if the bush dies, she’s wasted her time and effort on this jumped-up little royal philanderer.

Yeah, the guy probably wasn’t even a real prince - pirouette, cacahuète

Probably just some minor local dignitary’s son, with his flash clothes and bloody BMW Z3, bourre-et-bourre-et-rata-putain-de-tam.

Nothing to add except that the “three captains” (or sometimes “three knights”, “three riders”) are a recurrent motto in french popular songs. Usually, they’re haughty people who despise/try to seduce young girls, and are still usually sent packing one way or another.

And also, “vilaine” means at the same time “ugly” and “peasant, serf, villein”. So, the captains are assumedly noblemen who despise the girl for being a mere peasant and/or ugly.

Ouaiiis, ch’passais par la Lorraine, yo
Avec mes sketbas, yo, mec
Avec mes sketbas, 'ya trois keufs, p
Avec mes sketbas, y m’ont traité d’salope, ptain
Avec mes sketbas, yo mec,
Avec mes sketbas, j’leur ai fait bouge de l?!
Yo mec, bou-boub-bou-bouge de l?!


[sub]Okay, I’ll go to bed now…[/sub]

In the 1500’s, Marco Caro wrote something that may be an ancestor:

“Since my feet go where they wish and my thoughts
wander as they may, so shall I sing without care:
coming from Bologna, my shoes hurt my feet.

I suspect this is just a sort of universal walking song.


I don’t know, the blooming bush thing reeks of ‘unwanted royal bastard’ subtext: “if it blooms, I’ll be a queen; if it dies, I lose my pain.” That is, if she bears the child, she has a claim on the throne or at least on hush money; if she miscarries, she’s free of him and his unwelcome attentions.

The bit about walking to Lorraine in her shoes implies her poverty; the bit about the captains, perhaps her understanding that her beauty is based on her station–i.e., they only think she’s ugly because she’s poor and walking to Lorraine. If they knew she bore the prince’s son…

By the way, “Pop goes the weasel” makes perfect sense when you know what a weasel is (and I don’t mean the rodent).

Asteroide Nope, just a dad with the twin hobbies of singing, and learning languages. Bequeathing me the useful ability to sing En passant par la Lorraine and The Song of the Volga Boatmen , and count to ten in a wide variety of different countries :smiley:

So, let me get this straight:

Three randy soldiers are returning from being given a thourough whopping by the Bastard Prussians at Lorraine. Meanwhile, speaking of Bastardry, Our Heroine, a lowly Building Supervisor is returning home from mucking out the chicken pen, when she’s accosted by a young chancer, with an unusual pickup line (“Hey, my dad’s the King, how about it?”)

After a quick roll in the verbena, she discovers her contraception’s failed, and looks forward to pursuing the young “prince” for maintenance.

Meanwhile the soldiers, disappointed that they didn’t think of the “royalty” angle themselves, call her a cheap tart.

Doobie doobie doo.

Aspid, you’re so eloquent! You are like German armor columns, plugging the holes in the Maginot Line of my shoddy tale, and pouring into the tree-lined Paris of enlightenment.

Yes, but you have the Secret Wisdom of Pop Goes the Weasel, so I reckon we’re equal there…

So come on, spill the beans!

I think the Pop goes the Weasel comes right after putting him in the micro-wave oven for three minutes.

'Round and Round the carousel
The monkey chased the weasel
But monkeys can work doors and keypads
“Pop!” goes the weasel…

“Half a pound o’ tupenny rice,
Half a pound o’ treacle.
That’s the way the money all goes,
Pop goes the weasel.”

Pop means pawn, as in trading in something for money at a pawnshop. I don’t get to use this next phrase very often, so I’m going to interject it now- Testicles of the Medici (q.v.) Weasel is a tool used by tailors, IMS. Ergo, get some cash and buy a little food. The whole thing seems to be a bit of the O. Henry “Gift of the Magi” concept, but if you’re looking for logic, skip over some nursery rhymes.