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We are writing a biography and we need to spell one French idiom correctly. This idiom was used by a very old Russian lady who spoke fluent French (she was born before 1900) who used to say it when she couldn't find a book in her library (she had over 3,500 books). She would look for a book and then say, "Blah, blah, blah" and then would translate the idiom in Russian - "inconvenience from having too much stuff" or "inconvenience from being too rich".

Choices:

a. L'Embarras des richesses (capital L and E)

b. embarras des richesses (no capitals)

c. L'embarras des richesse (lower case e) - I tried google pronunciation, it sounds like it

d. L'embarras de la richesse

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    Do you have a little bit more context? What is the sentence, and what are the sentences around it? – Frank Feb 5 '17 at 16:47
  • The context: every time she was trying to find a book, she would climb the ladder to reach the top of her library. She would look at all the books - she had a huge library - and she would say that idiom. I just don't remember the exact words. Something that sounds like "Ambara de rishes" and then she would translate - inconvenience from being too rich (or from having too much stuff). – Banana Feb 5 '17 at 17:17
  • Only (a) is spelled correctly. – Frank Feb 5 '17 at 17:37
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    But that would be without the upper case E, which is used on common names only to really emphasize something, and it's not the case. Or, if you prefer, the c) but with an 's' at the end of 'richesses'. – m.raynal Feb 5 '17 at 19:38
  • embarras is not inconvenience or embarrassment. – Lambie Feb 12 '17 at 14:56
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This Wiktionary entry seems to be saying that the English expression “The embarrassment of riches” (i.e., “[the problem with having] too much of a good thing”) is from a translation of (the title of) the 1726 French play “L'Embarras DES richesses”(one "s" in embarras and "DES" [richesses]).

According to this n-gram, "embarras DES richesses" was the version that was most prevalent through about 1917 (which could very well correspond with an important year in the life of the interesting subject of your biography).

However, again according to n-gram, none of the versions of the expression using "richesse/s" come/s close to the frequency of the nearly synonymous expression "embarras du choix."

(cf: This French reddit thread also discusses this expression, with implications that the French “version” is actually used by speakers of English and that it’s perhaps not used at all in French-speaking countries.)

  • Thank you very much, Papa Poule, however, it does not answer my question because I still do not know if it's des richesses or de richess? The person who used to say it was not an English speaker, she was Russian who spoke fluent French. She didn't speak a word of English. – Banana Feb 5 '17 at 15:56
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    @Banana - the correct French would be des richesses. "de richess" is not correct. But we could help you better with a little bit more context. – Frank Feb 5 '17 at 16:52
  • I added a comment to clarify. Thanks for your explanation. So is "l'Embarass des richesses" the correct version then? – Banana Feb 5 '17 at 17:18
  • She didn't say "embarass du choix" for sure. Choix sound like "shua" but she said " ambara de riches" – Banana Feb 5 '17 at 17:35
  • @Banana - not quite :-) The correct form is "l'embarras des richesses" (2 'r', 1 's' at embarras in French). You can capitalize embarras if you want but I wouldn't - it's just another regular noun. I have no opinion on this capitalization. – Frank Feb 5 '17 at 17:36
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Peut-être voulait-elle dire:"Ce n'est vraiment pas pratique d'avoir trop d'affaires". "Comment s'y retrouver au milieu de toutes ces choses / tous ce livres? / toute cette richesse?"

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she said "ambara de riches"

is what you remember hearing.

So she was saying "(l')embarras des richesses". Most probably with the article : "L'embarras des richesses". Not putting it makes it implied, and is really a spoken form. There's no reason to put an upper case for "Embarras" here. You will find it in a tittle (of a play, a book, a chapter) because the first term is an article, so the upper case also goes to the noun that follows.

Equally, L'embarras de la richesse ("The inconvenience from being too rich") is quite an equivalent to it ("The inconvenience from having too much stuff / too much wealth"). You can use both forms alternatively. But since there was a play by that tittle, the first form – the one you remember – had some extra meaning in her mouth.

In that context, I would write it followed by a suspension mark or an exclamation mark, depending on her mood, tired or upset.

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In such matter, the french idiom is (c'est) un problème de riches, what is sometimes translated by "(it's) a first world problem", expression used to minimize complaints about trivial issues by shaming the complainer, or as good-humored self-deprecation.

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