Je ne peux pas vous répondre d’emblée.

Je ne peux pas vous répondre d’emblée.

zhuhn puh pah voo ray-paw-druh dah-BLAY. Click below to hear this. 

I can’t answer you right off the bat.

I’m pretty sure your first question is going to be: What the heck is an emblée? It was certainly mine. This is the sort of word you encounter when you read a lot of nonfiction, such as literary criticism. And because your sole focus in that case is to glean the essence of the passage you are reading and then to get on with the writing, you tend to skip over adverbial phrases and other such decorative devices.

You don’t have to tell me that you can miss important nuances this way. I wrote an entire dissertation using this method, and I am vividly aware of the shortcuts I took. But sooner or later, the phrase begins to nag at you. What exactly does that expression mean, anyway?

Glad you asked! There is no such thing as an emblée, as it turns out. The expression is used only as part of the phrase d’emblée, which means right away, immediately, right off the bat, at the outset, and other such phrases.

If you find this hard to remember, consider its origin: The first attested use was as a verb, dating from the 11th century. Embler came from the Latin involare, which means to precipitate oneself upon. To fly at, if you prefer, since volare means to fly. So our expression creates a vivid image (well, it does for me, anyway!), of a person leaping upon a question and hastening to answer it, or beginning a speech by flinging some initial thoughts at the audience. (“I would like to begin by insisting on certain facts….”)

Just in case you thought this was related to the English word to amble… You’d be justified in thinking so, especially because the Old French word from which that English one comes from was spelled both ambler and embler, interchangeably. But the source word for both variants is the Latin ambulare, which is a whole different kettle of fish. Slower, for one thing!

[Some mobile devices don’t display the audio player correctly. If you have trouble playing the sound file, try this link: je_ne_peux_pas_vous_repondre_demblee

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