Odd Words: Billet-doux

Billet-douxOh, how I’ve missed you all! My writing for Frankly Curious is really the basis of my social life. Make of that what you will. If it sounds really pathetic, I think you get the idea. And these odd words posts are often very personal. Today, we do Page 27 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Today’s word is “billet-doux.”

Too Tired to Go Beyond Billet-doux

Part 27 was no all that great. It had a bunch of bi- words and then a bunch of bio- words. Not a lot of fun. But in addition to that, I’m still really tired. And whatever I had affected my eyes and is still doing so. So reading is difficult. But I will tell you one story.

When I was young, I was with some friends at the beach at night. And as I walked along the wet sand, it seemed like sparklers were emitting from the front of my shoes. Now me being me, I just thought I was hallucinating. So I asked a friend and sure enough, it was a real thing. We picked up sand and poured it on the ground and saw the same thing. So we took a bucket of it home. The next night, there were no sparklers in the bucket of sand. I think that’s when I first realized that the light came from little animals — which were all dead now. And that what I had seen was bioluminescence.

But enough of that. On to billet-doux:

Bil·let-doux  noun  \bēl’-əy-doo\

1. a love letter.

Date: late 17th century.

Origin: from French billet-doux, meaning “sweet note.”

Example: The missive that sets wheels in motion here seems, by contrast, harmless: an anonymous billet-doux.Daily Mail

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

5 thoughts on “Odd Words: Billet-doux

  1. Sorry you’re still under the weather, Frank. Here’s a “billet doux” story, often repeated in British legal circles – they call notes passed to barristers during the case “billets doux” , and have anglicised the pronunciation to “billy doo”. So:

    The cases heard by Alan King-Hamilton at the Old Bailey in the 1960s and 70s read like a roll-call of the high-profile criminal trials of the time. The barrister and judge, who has died aged 105, handled them in a manner that was robust, often eccentric and sometimes witty. When, at the Old Bailey, the maverick barrister Billy Rees-Davies was cross-examining a police officer in a robbery case, he came dangerously close to allowing the prosecution let the jury know of his client’s criminal record. He was also being subjected to a waterfall of notes from the dock. “May I read this billet-doux, my lord?” said Rees-Davies. “Perhaps it’s a Billy-don’t,” replied King-Hamilton.


  2. Bioluminescence is one of those really amazing phenomena. In the South we used to see fireflies all over the yard on summer nights — unfortunately they seem to have practically died off. I haven’t seen those cave-dwelling glow worms, but I have seen the sort of luminescent plankton you’re talking about. I was camping on the Atlantic shore of Maryland and the sea was filled with them. Even without a moon, the surf was bright — and when walking on the sand you could look back and see a trail of glowing footprints. Very trippy.

    • One night, many years ago, me and my partner got our sexy sexy on in a public park down by the river. The air was full of fireflies. It was incredibly romantic.

      Alas, the air was also full of mosquitoes, so we both ended up with horribly itchy bites in horribly inconvenient bodily areas. Well, as they say, love is blind. Love is also stupid and doesn’t spray DEET.

      That luminescent plankton sounds amazing…

    • All that stuff is amazing. I’m a little night blind, so things seem weird to me anyway. The world is a wondrous thing. And we are really screwing it up — mostly just by being too successful. I always say: we aren’t any smarter than the caribou. We need some wolves.

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