petite anglaise

November 1, 2007


Filed under: book stuff, on the road — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:16 pm

I’m not sure exactly what I expected when invited to take afternoon tea at The Wolseley with the non fiction “tzar” from a well known UK bookseller’s.

Clotted cream, scones and gleaming silverwear, certainly. Champagne was an unexpected, but not unwelcome surprise. Banter peppered with references to various celebutards and their ghostwritten “auto”biographies seemed par for the course.

This is delightful, I thought to myself, scanning the room with interest. You can’t take the Heat reader out of this girl, no matter how posh a frock she’s donned for the occasion.

But a lengthy discussion about why most women seem blissfully unaware of their correct cup size and persist in wearing ill-fitting bras for life? Whatever I did expect, it certainly wasn’t three women and one man putting their heads together to puzzle over why the soutien gorge (why gorge incidentally? French reader?) can be sized double D or double A, but you never clap eyes on a BB or a CC?

As I clattered down the steps into Green Park station to catch yet another Eurostar, clutching our leftover cakes in their immaculate cardboard box, I smiled to myself.

It just goes to show that one never can be fully prepared for meetings.


  1. I think that when it was invented, the word “poitrine” would have been unappropriate to say out loud. So, as for other body parts, a distinguished langage (“langage précieux”) replaces it by something close (like “le bas du dos” pour les fesses).

    Comment by Markss — November 1, 2007 @ 1:32 pm

  2. Oh well, you could always burn them

    Comment by Winchester whisperer — November 1, 2007 @ 1:49 pm

  3. Ah, if one could be prepared for everything in life it would be much less interesting.

    A writer’s life must be so much more wonderful. I envy you!

    Comment by Lost in France — November 1, 2007 @ 2:02 pm

  4. Is that really true about the bras? I’ve heard this story so many times over the past six months, I can’t help wondering if it wasn’t cooked up to induce insecure women to go out and spend vast sums on all new underwear.

    Comment by amy, la petite americaine — November 1, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  5. « Gorge » is simply an elegant euphemism. In the same spirit, you have « ventre » for another part of the female body.

    Comment by Billy — November 1, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

  6. Technicalliy, DD = E. Not sure about AA, though.

    Comment by Lerren — November 1, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

  7. Gorge in soutien-gorge refers to a quite old use of the word, which describes -for a lady- the part of her body beginning at the chin and ending either at the upper part of the breast or at the belly button

    (definitions changed quite a bit with times, like for the “cheville” which could have refered to the upper part of the foot to an area around the half of the calf… but then again these words refer to two of the three most erotic body parts back in the day so it’s no wonder their meaning was a bit fuzzy and subject to change with what the times considered acceptable or not…)

    Comment by T. — November 1, 2007 @ 2:54 pm

  8. The current French term for brassière is soutien-gorge, literally, “held under the neck” or “throat-support”. In French, gorge (throat) was a common euphemism for the breast. This dates back to the garment developed by Herminie Cadolle in 1905.


    Comment by kara — November 1, 2007 @ 3:25 pm

  9. GORGE, subst. fém.
    D. Vieilli. Poitrine, seins de la femme.

    So “gorge” did mean breast… maybe that’s where “gorgeous” come from ?

    Comment by Morm — November 1, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  10. The explication that markss gave is the one I have found on internet, people were too puritan to use the right word.
    By the way, I enjoy reading your blog!

    Comment by Celine — November 1, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  11. And, perhaps, why AA is smaller than A, but DD is larger than D?

    You took the leftover cakes? Er…all right.

    Comment by Z — November 1, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

  12. Yeah, “gorge” just also means “poitrine”. It includes everything from the neck to the clivage to the boobs. As in “une gorge splendide”. Obviously not talking about where you get “angines”…

    Comment by amelie mancini — November 1, 2007 @ 4:12 pm

  13. I always wondered about “gorge” too since my throat didn’t seem to me to feature in the mechanics of the thing. The Italians are much less prissy. It’s “reggiseno” in Italian — breast holder or keeper upper.

    Comment by Passante — November 1, 2007 @ 4:17 pm

  14. I agree with Markss. At least that is what I have been told by my mom when I was mini-teen at an overly priced bra store in st.barth. My cousin merely rolled her eyes at my curiosity, to let me know I was “tres ennuyante”.

    Comment by blueseaurchin — November 1, 2007 @ 4:31 pm

  15. oooh, it says in the Petit Robert that soutien-gorge is a relatively recent word, only making an appearance at the start of the 1900s. Maybe originally you hung your boob support round your neck? There’s also an expression “menteur comme un soutien-gorge” apparently – based on the idea that a bra hides and embellishes the “true” female form. Mind you, I’ve never heard anyone use it, have you? I shall DEMAND celeb gossip next time I see you!! mwah

    Comment by rhino75 — November 1, 2007 @ 4:32 pm

  16. DD is really E.
    DDD is really F.

    I think it’s so ladies with large bazongas don’t feel quite so horrible.

    I’m breastfeeding now, so I can relate. It’s no fun thinking my lovely former C’s are now F’s. Just too close to grades in school, I guess. And I worry that when I’m done, they’ll shrink to super-flabby B’s.

    And I think AA is smaller than A, though I would not know personally. Sigh.

    Comment by La Rêveuse — November 1, 2007 @ 4:37 pm

  17. expertise de Norton C. Ridewell:

    Vous conviendrez aisément qu’il est plus élégant de parler d’un soutien-gorge que d’un porte-seins.

    you understand, it is more elegant to speak of throat support rather then of a breast holder.

    Comment by blueseaurchin — November 1, 2007 @ 4:37 pm

  18. My meetings are easy to predict – I am always in trouble for some reason or another. Always.

    Comment by Jonathan — November 1, 2007 @ 5:20 pm

  19. Goodness, what does it say about me that I am *far* more interested in the afternoon tea part than the lingerie etymology part? And I’m usually a lingerie fanatic (my recent Myla purchase was justified on the grounds that I’m moving to Paris – I *have* to have new lacy things!). Far from being shocked about you taking the leftover cakes home afterwards, I’m shocked that you haven’t told us what exactly these cakes *were*!

    Comment by Sarah in Marrakech (but RIGHT NOW in Paris!) — November 1, 2007 @ 6:01 pm

  20. @Lerren (no.6)
    So if “technicalliy” DD is the same as E, where does that leave E? Is E really F? It makes no sense!

    I’ve always thought that it was because they used to start at AA and stop at DD and stuff anyone who might dare to be larger. Now things are much improved and I have heard tell of a magic JJ….

    Comment by Mungo — November 1, 2007 @ 6:38 pm

  21. How fun to have tea at The Wolseley.

    Celebutard? Cross between a celebrity and a retarded person? I didn’t think they ate food.

    Comment by Peggy — November 1, 2007 @ 6:58 pm

  22. In high school (ok, 30 years ago but THIS I remember) we were taught the euphemism for a well-endowed woman was ‘Il ‘y a beacoup de gens dans le balcon’

    Is that REALLY true? I never realized until this conversation that after all this time, I had found a place where I could ask this burning question.

    Comment by JoAnne — November 1, 2007 @ 8:46 pm

  23. Y’a du monde au balcon – is the correct phrasing and yep it certainly means – dude, huge rack!

    Comment by Alexia — November 1, 2007 @ 10:11 pm

  24. To JoAnne,

    The exact sentence is: ‘Il y a du monde au balcon!’ and is still used, though less and less.

    Comment by Phil — November 1, 2007 @ 10:12 pm

  25. Quand je travaillais dans un orchestre symphonique, j’étais sidérée par le caratère plus que prosaïque des conversations des musiciens. Et dès qu’ils jouaient leur langage devenaient un des plus raffinés, touchants, superbes qui soient.
    Je me souviens aussi d’une cantatrice dont le souci principal était d’avoir sa photo dans Gala et qui chantait de façon sublime, en exprimant une spiritualité dont elle ne semblait pas posséder une once.

    Comment by Marie-Hélène — November 1, 2007 @ 11:58 pm

  26. Found this:
    “A une époque, les personnes dites du beau sexe, le vôtre (penchez-vous en avant si vous avez des doutes sur l’esthétique de la chose), avaient un tel sens de l’élégance qu’elles usaient de nombreuses périphrases, métonymies, ellipses et métaphores pour désigner avec style ce que le langage vulgaire nommait prosaïquement par leur nom commun.

    Ainsi désignaient-elles leur seins par la gorge, ce qui en excitait la convoitise des Messieurs, de même qu’elle préféraient parler de leurs rondeurs plutôt que de leurs fesses.

    Vous conviendrez aisément qu’il est plus élégant de parler d’un soutien-gorge que d’un porte-seins.”

    He he! Of course, now it all makes sense! :-)

    Comment by Karma — November 2, 2007 @ 2:49 am

  27. Oh, shoot, they’re right….I’ve never even HEARD of a double C or B. Way funny post and quite vivid, might I add…not the breasts part, but the silverware and cakebox trekking to the Eurostar…part.


    Comment by Eclat in Paris — November 2, 2007 @ 3:06 am

  28. You know how to get the chatroom chittering like a flock of sparrows. Well done PA – well done indeed.
    Oh, yes, and I am reliably informed by an impeccable source with her fingers on every fashionable pulse that they come in half sizes now. Everyone knows that, she says.
    So there!

    Comment by andrew — November 2, 2007 @ 3:20 am

  29. Having spent much money over the years in the ‘well endowed’ section of bra shops (a shock to my pre-pregnancy 12B self), if a bra company uses DD, that’s usually as far as they go in that range, or the next one is an F. I don’t remember AA back in the dark ages – I think it was added so that those with boyish figures had something to spend their money on, despite the fact that they’re patently useless. I’ve even seen AAAs lately, but since they also make bras for 6 year olds, nothing surprises me any more :-(.

    Comment by Anne — November 2, 2007 @ 4:32 am

  30. Amy

    It is true about the bras…if you are someone who has been buying bras the same size for the last few years, straight from the rack without trying them first. Experts believe that women change size at least six times in their life, from teenager to young adult, having children and putting on then losing weight!

    The easiest way to make sure is to get a fitting expert to check when you are in store that it is correct. I have done this now every time and have found different brands are different sizes. Plus I am not buying as many as they all fit perfectly! My other half has commented that my clothes are fitting nicer too!

    Comment by Jessica — November 2, 2007 @ 4:39 am

  31. A tea complete with champagne – I am so jealous. Hope you enjoyed the cakes.

    Comment by Caffienated Cowgirl — November 2, 2007 @ 10:09 am

  32. Ah well, these days support is everything! At least the conversation wasn’t about support tights… which would have been even more troubling.

    Comment by Ariel — November 2, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

  33. Cleavage and cleft share the same root :- ravine supporter, though I don’t know why gorge came to mean throat in the first place.

    Comment by j — November 2, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  34. yep – there’s no logic so the only agenda can be ego boosting. aa is smaller than a, gg is larger than g. my daughter is so delighted that she’s graduated onto an a now – she’s even started a blog about her training bra!
    you have a long way to go before tadpole has to worry about such matters, though.

    Comment by rivergirlie — November 2, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

  35. Bergerette (XIIIth century / extracts)

    Car j’ai rêvé sous l’églantine
    – Fi donc, Colin! – Qu’en contrebande
    Par la lande
    Tu me faisais plus d’une offrande
    Trop gourmande
    Pour ma bouche trop enfantine.

    Ah! que je me sens guillerette!
    Que je me suis levée à l’aise!
    N’en déplaise
    Aux saints curés du dïocèse,
    Une braise
    Brûle ma gorge de fillette.

    France of the middle ages was a very strange place …

    Comment by The Boy — November 2, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  36. If bras are apparently somewhat cryptically called ‘soutien-gorge’in French.. then where does brassiere come from?? Isn’t it French?? (Sorry if that is a deplorably stupid question… but I’m confused!!)

    Comment by Lala — November 2, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

  37. Ah, The Wolseley. I know it well.

    I’d say that what your meeting really proves is that you just can’t have too many cream teas. Especially in The Wolseley.

    Comment by Roads — November 2, 2007 @ 4:32 pm

  38. I was a pink-headed bug, climbing up the side of the Civic Hall …

    Comment by nobby — November 2, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

  39. AA, A, B, C, D, DD, E, F, FF, G, GG, H, HH, J, JJ, K, L

    Comment by Hywel Mallett — November 2, 2007 @ 4:53 pm

  40. Preparedness is grossly overrated. It’s the refuge for the non-spontaneous.

    In this case, however, I think I may have had some useful contributions to make to the conversation. And I can guarantee there would have have been no cakes left over to take home. (BTW, CUP cakes?).

    Bises hon

    Comment by kermit — November 2, 2007 @ 5:36 pm

  41. Once, I allowed my beloved to catch me slipping a business card into the largest bra I had ever seen in a lingerie shop.

    WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! she said

    Um, Oh, nothing. Nothing!

    I replied whipping my hand away and looking as innocent as possible.


    She said.


    I affected great injury.


    I sighed. Teasing her was such fun.

    Comment by Eats Wombats — November 2, 2007 @ 5:53 pm

  42. I think this handy article may answer (& end) the bra size debate

    Comment by Mungo — November 2, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

  43. Soutien-gorges, double-Ds & leftover cakes aside, why was the non-fiction bookselling tzar wooing you with afternoon tea?

    Comment by Peg — November 2, 2007 @ 6:04 pm

  44. And why on that is DD extra big – i.e. bigger than D, but AA is extra small – smaller than A???

    Comment by Sally Lomax — November 2, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

  45. Why has no-one reacted to the fact that The Boy posted a comment? Well done, Petite, clearly a man of taste and education ;-)

    Comment by Teaperson — November 2, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

  46. Gosh, I didn’t notice until you pointed it out (and I verified the email address). He used to post under a(nother) pseudonym, you see …

    Comment by petite — November 2, 2007 @ 7:45 pm

  47. Of course, vulgar Americans call large sized bras, “Over the shoulder, boulder holders”. This is from the film by Bette Midler, Beaches.

    Comment by Linda Mathieu — November 2, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

  48. Socks are so much easier…

    “to catch yet another Eurostar”, very cosmopolitan.

    Comment by Mark — November 3, 2007 @ 10:14 am

  49. Anne,
    Speaking as an AA myself, yes they do exist, and AAA too (see whilst to the better endowed this all might seem a bit pointless, bras for the ‘littler’ person are invaluable, both practically and psychologically (allowing us to both fit clothes (with a bit of padding..ahem) and also to feel feminine, which is quite hard sometimes with pictures of breasts covering seemingly ever magazine cover/advertising hording). Actually, it is still very hard to find bras on the high street in AA (which can be quite demoralising, in addition to annoying).

    sorry for the rant- just my two pennies worth!

    Comment by slowlane — November 3, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  50. Hi,
    too bad you missed the Opium Europe launch party that was a unique event… which made me think that next party, if you are there, you may read, right ? ;-)

    Comment by king negrito — November 4, 2007 @ 4:36 pm

  51. Lala (#36): According to Webster’s Dictionary Online:

    Etymology: obsolete French brassière bodice, from Old French braciere arm protector, from bras arm — more at bracelet
    Date: 1911

    a woman’s undergarment to cover and support the breasts

    Proof yet again that with the help of the Internet, anyone who calls up Google and finds an authoritative source (not Wikipedia, people, please) can look like an expert on almost anything!

    Comment by Passante — November 4, 2007 @ 5:37 pm

  52. Eats Wombats–what a great idea/ lol Re boobs–marvelous feature on women and so many delicious uses lol

    Beau in Seattle

    Comment by Beau — November 4, 2007 @ 11:52 pm

  53. Slowlane, if you reread my message, I said AAs didn’t exist in the Dark Ages (eg, back when I was first fitted by a chilly-handed corsetiere). I actually said that I’ve now seen AAs and even AAAs.

    I envy you – men don’t like large real breasts, only fake ones – and clothing designers don’t like any breasts at all!

    Oh to be a B again…

    Comment by Anne — November 5, 2007 @ 1:56 am

  54. > men don’t like large real breasts

    I am not so sure. I got a spam email once with the subject line


    Happily, my other half has never complained, just noted that they were smooth once and are now HAIRY (ahhh, carpeting! said another lady who checked them out at a swimming pool. She was joking, of course. It’s REAL not FAKE).

    Fake breasts are for fake men. Real men like the real thing.

    Comment by Eats Wombats — November 5, 2007 @ 11:32 pm

  55. I noticed The Boy and loved the poem, but didn’t know if it was ‘The Boy’. Lucky you Petite

    Comment by Duck — November 6, 2007 @ 1:07 pm

  56. DD, DDD, are for ladies who can not bring themselves to admit they are an E and F.

    Comment by miss tango — November 6, 2007 @ 4:31 pm


    Eats Wombats, I don’t know why you’d want a man with breasts at all – let alone big ones.

    Comment by Damian — November 6, 2007 @ 5:21 pm

  58. I had the same thought as Damian.

    However…I am a man, and I like (women with) large real breasts. (Not just saying that in case 36DD wife peers over my shoulder!)

    Comment by Rob — November 6, 2007 @ 11:59 pm

  59. Tsk! I didn’t say that *I* was attracted to men with breasts. In the interests of a little gallantry, that is to say


    I simply reported the title of a spam I had received and suggested that only boobies are attracted to false boobs.

    Gentlemen prefer the real thing and naturally consider a girls brains and sense of humour her paramount attraction. (I am not looking over my shoulder).

    Of course, since these are not on display in the street as one passes by, noticing other charms is sometimes unavoidable.

    But noticing is rude, now, I assume. The doctor who said


    and was told


    would probably be sued.

    Comment by Eats Wombats — November 7, 2007 @ 2:29 am

  60. Hey Lerren . AA = buy a vest instead ;o)

    Comment by Nix — November 8, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

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