Blessed are the DÃ©bonnaires
Answers to your Scripture Questions
An obituary for Kurt Vonnegut said that he preferred the French “blessed are the débonnaires” to the English “blessed are the meek.” That sounds odd. Are these words equivalent?
—Jane M., via e-mail
In a discussion of the French use of débonnaires, The Interpreter's Bible says that “a meek, little man is a title no one covets,” and that the French word — which we may today associate with “suave,” but which had an archaic meaning of “gentle” or “courteous” — may cancel out the sadness or sense of unimportance we might associate with the word “meek.” Débonnaires is found in the earlier editions (1951, 1961) of the Louis Segond French version of the Bible. However, in the second revision of this translation in 1968, the word débonnaires was changed to doux, which simply translates to “gentle” in English.
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