Sheepish notes

Following on my posting on une bergère allemande, three notes: on the Folies Bergère; on shepherd vs. sheepherder; and on the cultural role of shepherds and shepherdesses.

The Folies Bergère. From Wikipedia:

The Folies Bergère … is a cabaret music hall, located in Paris, France.

Established in 1869, the house was at the height of its fame and popularity from the 1890s’ Belle Époque through the 1920s’ Années folles. The institution is still in business, and is always a strong symbol of French and Parisian life.

… It opened on 2 May 1869 as the Folies Trévise, with fare including operettes, opéra comique (comic opera), popular songs, and gymnastics. It became the Folies Bergère [the Bergère Follies] on 13 September 1872, named after a nearby street, the rue Bergère (“bergère” means “shepherdess”).

What I don’t know is how the rue Bergère got its name.

Shepherds and sheepherders. From OED2:

shepherd: 1. a. A man who guards, tends, and herds a flock of sheep (grazing at large); usually one so employed for hire; or one of a pastoral people who herds (his own) sheep, goats, etc. [from Old English on]

b. Applied to the rustic personages of pastoral poetry. Hence, in poetry more or less adopting the pastoral convention, formerly often used to designate the writer and his friends or fellow-poets. [first cite 1591]

shepherdess: A female shepherd; a woman or girl who tends sheep; also fig. Also in pastoral poetry (see shepherd n. 1b). [first cite 1532]

sheep-herder:  U.S. one who herds sheep in large numbers in unfenced country. [first cite 1872]

These OED entries haven’t been revised for quite some time and are no longer entirely accurate. The OED has a shepherd as a man; NOAD2 says “person”, recognizing that shepherd can be gender-neutral. And I’m not sure that sheep-herder (now more often sheepherder) is now exclusively American.

In any case, shepherd and sheepherder are not entirely interchangeable. Sheepherder doesn’t have the literary associations of shepherd, and (in line with the OED‘s entry) sheepherder suggests larger flocks than shepherd. Sheepherders are likely to have a dirtier, more difficult job than shepherds; think Basque sheepherders and the young men of Brokeback Mountain.

A note on the -herd of shepherd, goatherd, etc. From OED2 again:

A keeper of a herd or flock of domestic animals; a herdsman. Now usually with word prefixed, as cowherd, swineherd, but in Scotland and north of England still a common word for shepherd. [in Old English]

The pastoral tradition. From Wikipedia:

A shepherd …, or sheepherder, is a person who tends, feeds, or guards flocks of sheep.

… Shepherding is among the oldest occupations, beginning some 6,000 years ago in Asia Minor. Sheep were kept for their milk, meat and especially their wool.

… In popular culture: The shepherd, with other such figures as the goatherd, is the inhabitant of idealized Arcadia, which is an idyllic and natural countryside. These works are, indeed, called pastoral, after the term for herding. The first surviving instances are the Idylls of Theocritus, and the Eclogues of Virgil, both of which inspired many imitators such as Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender. The shepherds of the pastoral are often heavily conventional and bear little relation to the actual work of shepherds.

Shepherds and shepherdesses have been frequently immortalized in art and sculpture. Among the best known is the neoclassical Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Shepherd Boy with Dog.

… The shepherd, in such works, appears as a virtuous soul because of his living close to nature, uncorrupted by the temptations of the city.

Two artistic representations. An idealized shepherdess, in an 1889 painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau:


And an idealized shepherd boy in a sculpture by Bertel Thorvaldsen:


4 Responses to “Sheepish notes”

  1. JackH Says:

    Do not put your hand on the dog’s genitals?

  2. Chris Waigl Says:

    Well, the City of Paris’s website on road nomenclature says:
    Orig. du nom.
    Jean Bergier, maître teinturier, à qui l’Hôtel Dieu avait donné à bail une terre de labour sur le grand chemin de Montmartre (XVIIe siècle).
    Ce n’était, anciennement, qu’un simple chemin. On l’appela successivement rue du Clos aux Halliers, rue aux Halliers, rue au Berger, rue Bergère (vers 1652) ; on y construisit les premières maisons en 1738.

    (Origin of the name: Jean Bergier, master dyer, to whom the Hôtel Dieu rented out a site there in the 17th century. Formerly nothing but a simple trail, it was successively called Clos aux Halliers [something like brushwork], rue aux Halliers, rue au Berger, rue Bergère (approx. 1652). The first houses were built there in 1738.)

    So in the 17th century one might still have inflected a proper name when it gave a name to a street.

    Whereas the 1844 Dictionnaire administratif et historique des rues de Paris et de ses monuments / par Félix Lazare,… et Louis Lazare,… (, page 66) says there were three houses in 1734, confirms the “clos aux Halliers” original name, but considers the “Bergère” name as “l’étymologie nous est inconnue”. It was supposed to be 10m wide in 1844 and had gas lighting.

  3. chryss Says:

    One more thing that occurs to me tangentially is that in French, using the street name as a direct postmodifier (without “de” or any other preposition) to further label a specific establishment (as in Folies Bergère) is extremely common: The Opéra Bastille is the opera house on Place de la Bastille, whereas the Opéra Châtelet is/was the one at Place du Châtelet; the Bibliothèque Cluny is the library in Rue de Cluny. Some of these become official names, others remain informal, and the rule works compositionally as well.

  4. arnold zwicky Says:

    Celebrated shepherds: Strephon in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe, Iolanthe’s son (who’s a fairy from the waist up, but has mortal legs), is an Arcadian shepherd.

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