I speak French and I?ve lived in France, but not right now, so at
first I thought that someone currently living there would have chances
to do it better. But as the days passed by and no one was taking on
the question, I decided to put hands on it, counting on first hand
resources to get updated about meanings and connotations that might
have changed since I moved. Here?s the result.
Let?s start from the basics.
I first explored whether the English word ?straight?, as is, had ?as
often happens with some foreign words- any sense in France to conclude
that, as a general use, there?s virtually none. The ?heterosexual?
connotation the word has for English speakers is not spread out;
except for a still not widely extended argotic use within the
gay/lesbian (GL) community, especially among those familiar with
Anglophone?s expressions. Due to this familiarity, some people outside
the GL group may also use the word ?straight? this way, typically
those with a friendly attitude to the GL. In general terms, in France
you?ll find a minor use of the word ?straight? as ?heterosexual?,
mainly within a rather sophisticated minority, with a GL affiliation
In 2001, a book was published in France with the title ?La pensée
straight?, translated from the original in English ?The straight mind?
(1992), authored by Monique Wittig, a (curiously) French novelist,
poet and social theorist, notably engaged in a lesbian point of view,
who settled in America after the 70?s, and was a teacher at the
University of Arizona at the time the original version in English was
published. What?s significant about it for this research, is the fact
that the English word ?straight?, meaning ?heterosexual?, remained
unchanged in the French title ?what in the book is called ?straight
mind? would be, roughly, the heterosexual dominant thinking. Assuming
that the people more likely to get interested in this text were
lesbians, gays and intellectuals, the use of the word ?straight? in
the French title is another indicator that these would be the social
groups more familiar with that term in the suggested sense. Perhaps,
in time, it might gain a more generally extended argot usage.
Otherwise in Quebec ?francophone Canada- they do have a quite broadly
extended slang use for ?straight?, paradoxically meaning ?under the
influence? of alcohol or drugs.
The most approximate French words for ?straight? and ?straightness?
are, respectively, ?droit? (phonetics: [drwa]) and ?droiture?
Now, the word ?droit? includes other meanings, corresponding to the
English word ?right?, in the senses of:
- ?right? as the opposite of ?left? (position; ideology);
- ?someone?s right? as what is considered just or granted for someone, e.g.:
--- ?droits de l?homme? = ?human rights?,
--- ?droit de vote? = ?right to vote?,
--- ?droit de propriété? = ?right of property?.
While in English one of the meanings of ?right? is ?correct?, both in
the sense of true -?to be right?, adjusted to the facts- or the sense
of ethics -?to do what is right?? the word ?droit? would not fit in
the same way. However, there?re some proximities, as in the outdated
expression ?avoir droit? -literally, ?to have right?, but ?droit?
(?right?) actually meaning ?raison? (?reason?), i.e., ?to have
reason?, or better, ?to be right?: the reason (?right?) is in one?s
side. And in the moral sense it?s used like in the expression ?le
chemin droit? (?the right way?), but where the sense of ?correct? is
derived from the idea of ?no deviations? (ultimately, ?straight?),
while in English ?right? is plainly a synonym of (morally) ?correct?.
On the other hand, the word ?droit? has other meanings that neither
?straight? nor ?right? have. ?Le droit? means ?The Law?, i.e., the
whole of the norms and particular laws that rule a society, and also
the science that studies those norms and laws, actually, what lawyers
study (please note that for one particular law the French word is
?loi? [lwa]). In this regard, the expression ?fair son droit? means
?to study laws?. Also: ?droit penal? = ?criminal law?; ?droit
international? = ?international law?; etc.
When in a formal letter you don?t know exactly whom it should be
addressed to, you would start: ?a qui de droit? = ?to whom it may
?Faire droit? = ?to judge?; ?to bring in a verdict?; ?to act with justice?.
In relation to the use or economical exploitation of a property
(intellectual, physical) or territory, ?droit? would mean ?fee? or
In geometry, the word ?droit? carries some of the meanings of ?right?
and ?straight?, such as: ?(angle, cylindre, cône) droit? = ?right
(angle, cylinder, cone)?; ?perpendicular?; ?vertical? (here, matching
?straight? too). As a noun: ?un droit? = ?a right angle?; ?une droite?
= ?a straight line?.
Other uses of the word ?droit? translatable as ?straight? that have
not been mentioned so far:
- ?un homme droit? = ?a straight man? (honest)
- ?un arbre droit? = ?a straight tree? (not inclined, not curved)
- ?allez tout droit? = ?go straight? (as a direction given to someone
to reach a destination)
Now, we have to consider the French grammatical difference of having
gender for nouns and adjectives. So, while ?a straight road? and ?a
straight street? changes nothing for the adjective ?straight?, ?un
chemin droit? (masculine) and ?une rue droite? (feminine) makes an
important difference, in writing and pronunciation: [drwa] vs.
[drwat]. This has greater consequences with other meanings of the word
You can speak of ?le poign droit? (?the right fist?) ?la main droite?
(?the right hand?). About a boxer, for instance, you can praise ?son
(poign) droit? or ?(the effectiveness of) sa (main) droite?
(son[masc.]/sa[fem.]=his/her; unlike in English, in French the gender
of possessive adjectives varies with the object being possessed,
instead of the subject who possesses it).
But probably the most socially relevant use of the term ?la droite?
meaning the opposite of ?left? (?gauche?) is in the political sense of
?conservative?. These words are really important in France because
this country has a very popularly rooted political tradition, and
while in America the political duality (and eventual alternation) is
expressed by two parties (Democrats and Republicans), and similarly in
the UK (Labours and Tories), in France it is defined by ?la droite?
vs. ?la gauche?, as a more permanent political identification than any
party by itself, in part because France has a rather plural political
arena, with several important parties instead of just two, so very
often the electoral contenders are two coalitions, a left side one vs.
a right side one, and the people as well as the media talk of ?la
gauche? and ?la droite? maybe more frequently than they would mention
the parties themselves. Searching on Google the words: gauche droite
"elections en france", I?ve got 837 results
The interesting part of it is that, while the word ?droite? has a
strong connotation of conservative ideology, the word ?droit?, is
quite the opposite. Since ?la gauche? is the political sector that
traditionally assumes the defense and promotion of many social rights
(?droits?), such as rights of minorities, women, human, then the word
?droit? is widely associated with the left side of the political
spectrum. See as an example this excerpt: ?...leaving the Human Rights
(?Droits de l?Homme?) to ?the left? (?la gauche?) because of so
circumstantial motives, will drive ?the right? (?la droite?) to a
suicide, first philosophic, and then political (...) the left has
embodied the rights, the justice and progress for one century without
cease? (?abandonner les Droits de l'homme à la gauche pour des motifs
aussi circonstanciels, conduirait la droite à un suicide philosophique
d'abord, politique ensuite (...) la gauche depuis un siècle n'a eu de
cesse d'incarner le droit, la justice, le progrès.?). This quotation
is from the article ?Éloge du ?droit-de-l'hommisme?? (?Praise to
?human-rights-ism??) by Guy Sorman, published in December 2002, in the
website of Liberté Cherié (Dear Freedom), organization ideologically
?libéral?, concept that in France, unlike the Anglo-Saxon tradition,
is close to ?conservative?, instead of its opposite, that is,
belonging to the ?droite?.
The strategy I used for this work, rather than searching the internet,
was based on a previous knowledge of the French language and society
and consultation with French friends. However, I did take useful input
from several sources. Apart from those mentioned in the article:
Dictionnaire de l'Académie française: http://atilf.atilf.fr/academie9.htm
Merriam?Webster OnLine: http://www.merriam-webster.com/
Bagdam Espace Lesbien - Textes théoriques:
Monique Wittig: http://www.moniquewittig.com
Glossaire Gay Culture:
This has been a very interesting job to do. I hope to have met your
expectations. If you need further clarification, please do not
hesitate to ask. Thank you.