ah laa-vah GAARd… Click below to hear this.
In the avant-garde…
So what does that mean, really? We bandy the word about when talking about art, music, film, and other movements, giving the expression the meaning of ahead of one’s times.
We also talk about someone being in the vanguard of a movement, even a political trend. But the origin of both terms is the same: it began life as a military term. In Old French texts (yup, that again!), the avant-garde is simply the troops who precede the rest of the army, to guard the followers.
But–surprise!–that’s not what you say in modern French. Not when you’re talking about the military. You say that certain troops are en tête de others (at the head of).
And then there are the folks at the back. You know, the rearguard. In Old French, they were la reregarde. Oh! I hear you saying: That’s an English word! The French borrowed rear from us!
Nope. Rere is from the Latin retro. If you add the Latin preposition de you get (eventually) derere and then derrière. With Latin a, you get arrière. Both mean in the back or in the rear.
Nowadays, in the military, the old reregarde is called the arrière-garde. They are the ones who have your back.
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