Tu as dû verser des arrhes?
tew ah dew vair-say day ZAAR? Click below to hear this.
Did you have to pay a deposit?
Surely this is one of the funnier-looking words in the French language. Where else will you find a double r followed by an h? It looks suspiciously un-French.
That’s because somehow, back when Latin was a living language, an h crept into the spelling, turning the Latin from arra to arrha. That may have been the fault of St. Augustine (born in 354 CE), who used the “h” form of the word in a couple of his sermons. One (very wild) guess would be that the h reflected a local or regional pronunciation of the word.
In any case, much as “the toe bone connected to the foot bone” and so on, the Modern French arrhes came from the Old French erre, which came from the Latin arra or arrha, which was an abbreviation of the full word arrabo, which came from the ancient Greek arrabon, which is probably related to the Hebrew word erabon.
In modern French, les arrhes (always in the plural) means deposit, down payment, earnest money, and other words that signify “money you put down to seal a verbal agreement”. In Old French, it could also represent a token of agreement or of a promise: a glove, a handkerchief, a piece of jewelry, for example.
At any rate, just so you can see that I didn’t make all this up, here’s the etymology of arrhes as given at this link : “Du latin arrha (ou arra) (« gages »), une forme abrégée de arrabo (« premier acompte ») ; du grec ancien ἀρραβών, arrabōn, du mot sémitique ערבון.” If I ever learn anything more about the Greek or the Hebrew words, I’ll tell you about that too!
In the meantime, note that you can say payer/recevoir/donner des arrhes, as well as other verbs, but a very common expression is verser des arrhes, which translates literally as to pour out a deposit. Before paper money, I suppose one really did pour out the coins from your purse into the hands of the recipient. It still feels that way when you watch the money disappear from your bank account.
Alternate audio file link: verser-des-arrhes