Usage of "noble" & "precious"
Thread poster: Harald Moelzer (medical-translator)
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.
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!
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| | William Stein
Local time: 17:05
French to English
| 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...
| | Dylan Edwards
Local time: 00:05
Greek to English
| 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: 01:05
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".
| "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".
| | Heinrich Pesch
Local time: 02:05
Finnish to German
| 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.