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Usage of "noble" & "precious"
Thread poster: Harald Moelzer (medical-translator)

Harald Moelzer (medical-translator)  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 13:56
Member (2003)
English to German
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Jul 11, 2003

After seeing Ian's comment on the use of the word "noble" in a recent KudoZ
question (http://www.proz.com/kudoz/472955), I asked him to explain the usage of "noble" and "precious". As a native speaker he provided some interesting details, so I thought I'd post it and see if anyone
can add anything else.

***
Ian:
My Merriam-Webster dictionary defines precious as “of great value or high
price”, but effectively it is really only used for stones and metal.
Furthermore, it is often used in a negative sense “he spends the whole day
sitting in front of his precious computer”, and as an adverb “he spends
precious little time with his kids”. “Valuable” is a much more useful word,
it’s not as extreme as “precious” and can be used figuratively as well:
“Thank you for your valuable assistance/contribution”.

“Noble” is quite an old-fashioned word which usually means “of high birth or
exalted rank”, and I would really only use it to describe people or
intangibilities – not objects, and certainly not mobile phones as in the
case in question! Referring to people, it can mean high-minded or
chivalrous, generous or “of noble blood”, but often sarcastically: “that’s
very noble of
you!”, meaning “Thanks a f**king bunch”. The word can be used for
intangibilities with the same qualities: “a noble cause”, “a noble ambition”
, “the noble art of translation” (!) etc.

***
Many thanks for this & I'm looking forward on further comments!
Harald


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DGK T-I  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:56
Member (2003)
Georgian to English
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Noble.... Jul 11, 2003

[quote]Harald Moelzer wrote:

After seeing Ian's comment on the use of the word "noble" in a recent KudoZ
question (http://www.proz.com/kudoz/472955), I asked him to explain the usage of "noble" and "precious". As a native speaker he provided some interesting details, so I thought I'd post it and see if anyone
can add anything else.

And then there are the 'Noble gases' in the Periodic table (Chemistry). I imagine 'precious little' as in 'you have helped precious little' might be working because (genuinely) precious things tend to come in small amounts, by definition otherwise they would be devalued! - and the computer is as if it is genuinely precious (the speaker is being sarcastic about the persons behaviour, treating it as if it was that).
"Whether 'tis nobler in the mind....." (but in a quotation here, of course).
Resources as well as time can be precious (implying to me, with due deference to Jack's other definition below, a degree of finiteness, cost or perhaps choice or urgency, and scarcity ).
People who loved one another could still sieze a few precious moments together...
[Edited at 2003-07-13 17:58]

[Edited at 2003-07-15 13:49]

[Edited at 2003-07-23 07:50]


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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Russian to English
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OED on "precious" Jul 11, 2003

My Oxford English Dictionary covers the same ground as Merriam-Webster on "precious", and also gives one other definition: "affectedly refined, especially in language or manner".
I have come across it used this way but not often and not recently. I should say it is now more or less obsolete. (Nothing to add on "noble".)


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:56
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
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Probably came from the 18th century French literary style Jul 11, 2003

preciosity (noun) -
1. the quality of being fastidious or excessively refined

"Préciosité" was a courtly form of language in a very theatrical setting in which almost nothing was as it seemed. Very few married couples were in love (hence, all the love poetry cultivated as an art form), the simpler, "pastoral life" came to be seen as ideal, and language reached what in Spain was earlier referred to as "Gongoric". Detail was appreciated to the point of obsession. Grand Opera came of age in Italy, and elsewhere, huge "mises en escène" of naval battles were being staged on artificial lakes.

All in all, grandiose infrastructure ... would've loved to translate some technical specs in those days.

[Edited at 2003-07-11 21:11]


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William Stein  Identity Verified
Costa Rica
Local time: 06:56
French to English
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Just a quick footnote Jul 12, 2003

Ian's analysis of precious was very interesting and made me think of the The Lord of The Rings, where Gollum and later Bilbo call the magic ring "My Precious". It says a lot that Tolkein chose the word "precious" to describe the symbol of supreme evil and corruption. Anyway, what's really bizarre is that I turned on the TV right after that and there was the beginning of the first part of the Lord of the Rings where Bilbo calls the ring "My Precious" and Gandalf persuades him to leave it behind. Just another of those strange coincidences...

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Dylan Edwards  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:56
Greek to English
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Precious, noble Jul 12, 2003

Perhaps there's precious little to add...
but I didn't notice that anyone's mentioned "noble rot", i.e. mould which is allowed to grow on grapes to improve the flavour of wine. This entered English in the 1930s (the Oxford Dictionary tells me), from French "pourriture noble".
There's also "the noble art", meaning "boxing" - thanks to this topic, I've looked into this and found that there's a similar term in French, "le noble art (de la boxe)".
Then there's Rousseau's "noble savage".

The phrase "That's very noble of you" used sarcastically (as mentioned above) seems really nasty to me. I don't have personal experience of that usage. "Noble fellow... You're a good fellow, that's very noble of you" - that's more like what I've heard, rather old-fashioned turns of phrase used jocularly, but well meant.

I don't think the "fastidious / affected" sense of "precious" is dead, I would use it...
Then there's the contemptuous use of "precious", for instance "You and your precious ideas!" or "I'm sick of hearing about his precious..." etc. etc.


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Beatraduc
Local time: 13:56
English to French
"Les Précieuses Ridicules" Jul 12, 2003

Jack Doughty wrote:

My Oxford English Dictionary covers the same ground as Merriam-Webster on "precious", and also gives one other definition: "affectedly refined, especially in language or manner".
I have come across it used this way but not often and not recently. I should say it is now more or less obsolete. (Nothing to add on "noble".)


When I read the above post I was reminded of Molière's play "Les Précieuses Ridicules". As a french pupil I studied it at school and of course, the meaning of "précieuses" is exactly what the Oxford describes. But as Jack says it is 18th century meaning.
Nowadays the use of this word with that definition will be considered in Fance as "precious".


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Valters Feists  Identity Verified
Latvia
Local time: 14:56
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English to Latvian
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"precious people" Jul 12, 2003

Aldous Huxley in his [satirical] novel Antic Hay uses "precious mister Mercaptan" and "precious gentlemen". Mercaptan is a mannered literary critic, and the novel concerns the lives of London's intellectuals in the period after WWI (in which Britain participated) -- hence men are as if more valuable.

Precious Mister is a racehorse's name, according to Google search results.

Jack Doughty wrote:

My Oxford English Dictionary


"affectedly refined, especially in language or manner".
[/quote]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 14:56
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
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And from German? Jul 15, 2003

In German newspaper texts, notoriously of Spiegel origin, Nobel is used quite frequently. Nobel-Schlitten for very expensive cars, Nobel-Appartement etc.
How would you translate these into English, if you would like to convey the ironic meaning: Snobs fahren Nobel-Schlitten.


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