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“To have the cockroach”, a melancholy expression born from the Arab and Charles Baudelaire

Stéphane Bern offers every day, in Historically yours with Matthieu Noël, to discover these expressions that we use on a daily basis without necessarily knowing their origin. Monday, the host explains the roots of the expression “to have the cockroach”, a formula that expresses melancholy, like the Sunday evening blues, and which we owe both to the poet Charles Baudelaire and to the religious term of the Arabic language.

What is the relationship between cockroaches and the sadness that we feel when we “have the cockroach”? Although the crawling insect is not known for its festive nature, the origin of this expression is a bit more complex. Originally, the word “cockroach” comes from the Arabic “kafir”, which designates a disbeliever, that is to say a person with little faith. In 16th century France, the word was also used in this sense.

Knowing that God is light, people who lived in darkness were naturally nicknamed “cockroaches”, just like insects which, deceitful, grow in dark corners and act underhand. The verb “to cockroach” then came to complete this pejorative portrait attached to this word.

Cockroach or crickets depending on the bank of the Rhine

But it is Charles Baudelaire who will actually popularize this analogy between the insect and the state of mind in everyday language. In The evil flowers, the cursed poet writes about the demon:

“Sometimes he takes, knowing my great love of Art, the form of the most attractive of women.

And, under specious cockroach pretexts, accustom my lip to infamous potions. ”

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Charles Baudelaire, to whom we also owe the invention of “spleen”, was an expert in the lexical field of anything that plummets the morale. Besides, it is also this 19th century poet who said “Life has an end, sorrow does not”. This is enough to have the blues. Or crickets.

Because it is this animal that the German language has retained, in which one expresses one’s melancholy by saying that one “has caught crickets”. In Romania, we say “to have fallen into a well of melancholy”, an expression which is not animalistic, but which has the merit of being clear.

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