I do not get the meaning of "Une machine à voler... à travers les airs, et non à voler... son prochain." (see the text). Did that machine fly or it did not?

I tried to find an english version:

"A flying machine... thought the air, and a non flying machine... its brother."

I am not sure if this is the correct meaning. It sounds like a joke or irony.



Une machine à voler... à travers les airs, et non à voler... son prochain.

Le problème de l'aviation, que l'on espère résoudre par des appareils plus lourd que l'air, est de ces problèmes qui attirent non seulement les inventeurs extravagants mais les hommes de science les plus sérieux.*

Source: Le Sport Universel Illustré, December 24, 1898, p. 833

enter image description here

(Same source as above)


It's a pun, voler means both fly and steal:

A flying machine, not a stealing one

or with the full wording:

A machine to fly through the air, not to steal from your neighbour

Clément Ader was a famous aviation pioneer. Whether he did succeed or not to actually fly enough with his plane for the performance to be accepted doesn't change that fact.

  • OK. Your translation makes a lot of sense. However, I am still not sure if the author believed the machine had flown or he was in doubt, see the picture "L'avion dans son vol, ailes déployées". Is it "The plane in its flight or during its fraud?" – Energizer777 Apr 1 '16 at 9:05
  • This might be interpreted that way as public funding to Ader ceased after his flight. There was no real fraud though, he was a true pionner and likely took off, but not very high... – jlliagre Apr 1 '16 at 9:58

The wording is actually a pun like :

"It's a machine to fly... in the air, and not to fly... the danger."

This kind of negation (see here) is used when we say what is, then what is not.

  • Cet article-là s'agit de quelques mots, mais pas la négative? – D. Ben Knoble Apr 2 '16 at 18:10

Il y a un jeu de mots sur voler, avec les deux sens (voler comme un oiseau, ou dérober, tel un voleur).

La négation et non à voler, pourrait se dire et pas à voler

On pourrait dire (ce qui n'a plus aucun humour ni sens):

Une machine pour aller dans les airs, et pas une machine pour dérober.

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