Au royaume des aveugles, les borgnes sont rois.
oh rwah-yohm day zaa-vuh-gluh, lay bor-nyuh saw rwah. Click below to hear this.*
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
You’ll notice a few minor differences between the French and the English here, but we have the same saying. Literally, the French says In the kingdom of blind people, the one-eyed people are kings. Nearly identical!
What’s interesting here is the origin of the two most significant French words. Aveugle is both a noun and an adjective meaning blind. It is derived from the popular Latin words “ab oculis” (without eyes). But there was an earlier word that also meant blind: Latin “caecus”, which evolved into the Old French word cieu. (No, that word is not related to le ciel, heaven or sky. Different ancestors.)
That Old French adjective/noun has totally disappeared from the language, but it left behind a trace, in the form of another noun: la cécité, which is the proper word for blindness.
As for borgne, no one is entirely sure where is came from, though Wiktionnaire suggests that it may derive from a Latin root “borna”, meaning a hole or cavity: surely a graphic way to describe a one-eyed person.
In any case, the meaning is clear: even if you are no bright light yourself, you will succeed if you are surrounded by dim bulbs. A recipe for mediocrity, if ever I heard one.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: