Bilingual street fight (Geneva, 1557)

A certain Cassonet went off for Christmas communion and then apparently off to dine. He came home to find the strike plate (gâche) of his door broken.

Agitated, incensed and apparently blaming some Frenchman for the property damage, he began spouting imprecations against all the refugees who had poured into Geneva, saying that it would be better if these people “were back in papacy where they came from.”

When some passersby told him it was scandalous to speak so, Cassonet cursed him and shot back “Go away! I’m a better man than you. Want to say it isn’t so? Do you want to argue with me in French or Latin?” [original text below]

I know nothing about this Cassonet character, not even his first name, but presumably he had some learning and felt that gave him a certain standing and authority. I can only wonder what he would have said if one of the great scholars of this city — a Calvin or a Colladon — had been present, neither of whom would have had any trouble disputing in French or Latin (or likely Greek for that matter).

Still, it’s extraordinary to find that line in a street argument. If only my latin were better, I’d file that one away for the next time someone cuts me off in traffic.


A bien confessé que le jour de la Cene dernier, apres estre de retour de soupper où il estoit allé, voyant la gasche de sa porte rompue, fut esmeu et courroucé telement qu’il dict qu’il vaudroit mieux que teles gens fussent à la papaulté d’où ilz sont venuz.

Ce neantmoins, chargé par Denys Guyot, Jehanne Laupnays, et Bernard Cautillat, tesmoings, d’avoir faict plus de scandale qu’il ne confesse, mesmement d’avoir diableyé et user de tels propoz à ceux qui le reprenoyent: «Allez! Je suys plus homme de bien que voz. Qu’i ne soit ainsi? Voulez-voz disputer à moy en françoys ou en latin?». Arresté qu’il y pensera entre cy et huict jours.

source: R.Consist. 11, f. 95v ( 7 janvier 1557).

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>