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"Boule de Suif" is a favourite short story of mine, but I can only read it in translation. The translation of the title varies drastically into English, particularly with regards to its positive or negative connotations ("butterball" is vaguely positive sounding, certainly when compared to "ball of lard").

I'm aware of the literal meaning of suif, though I'm not sure why one would wish to roll tallow into balls, so suspect even an extended meaning here.

But I'm more interested in the general sentiment of the phrase "Boule de suif", after all it is being applied to the principal character. Does it have connotations of homeliness or disgust, or neither, or is it ambiguous?

I don't need a fitting English translation, just an idea I can keep in my head when reading the story.

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The Boule de suif nickname origin is clearly explained in the short story :

La femme, une de celles appelées galantes, était célèbre par son embonpoint précoce qui lui avait valu le surnom de Boule de suif. Petite, ronde de partout, grasse à lard, avec des doigts bouffis, étranglés aux phalanges, pareils à des chapelets de courtes saucisses, avec une peau luisante et tendue, une gorge énorme qui saillait sous sa robe, elle restait cependant appétissante et courue, tant sa fraîcheur faisait plaisir à voir.

Boule de suif looks like a teasing nickname, something jokingly derogatory and offensive she has to stick with. Its connotations are ambiguous. It is of course not specially enjoyable to be called a butterball/ball of lard but on the other hand, the author is describing her as appealing and popular, so the feminine curves (gorge énorme) might also be considered to be positive.

Nowadays, suif is quite rarely used at least in France. It might be more popular in Quebec.

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  • Si je ne me trompe pas, la gorge énorme fait référence à la même que le soutien-gorge, non ? Nov 25 '16 at 11:11
  • @TeleportingGoat C'est bien de cette gorge là qu'il s'agit.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 25 '16 at 11:45
  • I think my remaining vague, background puzzlement is maybe my more to do with subtleties nineteenth century attitudes to food, bodies and women, than the French language, as I thought it was. Thank you for your answer! Nov 25 '16 at 21:13

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