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In the following scene, quoted from Aurélien (1944) by Louis Aragon, Adrien Arnaud and Blanchette are speaking while having dinner. They’re in Blanchette’s and her husband’s apartment, where Adrien has been living for a while due to an injury in his leg. They have been getting closer for a while up until this point, but, unless I missed something, they haven’t got physically close yet and haven’t kissed or even hugged.

Naturally in order to figure out what’s going on it would have been better to quote the entire chapter (or better yet, the entire novel). However, that is unfeasible (and possibly violates copyright laws).

Elle pensa à ce qu’Edmond lui avait dit d’Arnaud à la guerre. Un héros.

« Dire, — soupira-t-elle, — que j’aurais pu vous connaître autrefois... le premier...

— Blanchette ! » Il avait presque crié. Il oublia sa jambe, s’élança vers elle.

« Ne bougez pas ! Vous vous êtes fait mal ? Adrien... grand fou... »

Elle avait jeté ses bras autour de lui pour l’empêcher de tomber. Elle le serrait inconsciemment contre elle, et lui ses mains, ses mains chaudes, couraient le long de ce dos nu, glissaient à l’échancrure de la robe... La moustache... l’odeur du cigare... Jamais personne ne l’avait embrassée comme ça... elle mit à la fin sa joue sur l’épaule de l’homme et gémit... Adrien... À la fin des fins, quelqu’un l’aimait...

« Mon ami, — dit-elle, — votre pauvre jambe... »

Et elle l’aida à regagner son fauteuil. Il était comme un grand enfant, il murmurais de petits mots tendres, des excuses, des promesses. Quand elle se redressa, les perles caressèrent le visage d’Adrien.

My guess would be that in this context embrasser means to hug, and not to kiss, (as I understand in our times it always always does—but I have no idea for how long this has been the case and whether it applies to texts from the 1940’s as well), since it’s never actually said that he kissed her, while their caresses could be thought of as a kind of a hug. However, I am not sure, and would be happy to hear other people’s take on it. To repeat my question:

In this context, does embrasser mean to hug or to kiss?

  • Honestly it's hard to tell. – Destal Oct 17 at 20:07
  • She had thrown her arms around him to keep him from falling. I think the guy just fell on her. So it was "just" a hug. There's absolutely no hint of a kiss in the text. – Simon Mourier Oct 21 at 7:17
  • @Destal: Thank you, this was possibly the most helpful comment. – Salamano Oct 22 at 14:47
  • @SimonMourier What you're saying makes sense (maybe post it as an answer?). However, for instance, it is my understanding that today it is so rare to use this word to mean hug (rather than kiss) that it would have been most sensible (had it been written today) to understand it this way (i.e. that he's implying after the fact that they had kissed, although the narrator didn't say it when it happened). But I am not sure if this were true in 1944. Frankly, I expected most answers to concentrate on this issue: which meaning was more popular in 1944. – Salamano Oct 22 at 14:49
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    @SimonMounier > I have strictly no idea how and where I could get such statistics. Do you have statistics to support your own opinion and prove me wrong? Anyway my comment was there to compensate your affirmation in order not to mislead anybody. Cause now you mention this is your opinion while your initial comment was very affirmative. – Laurent S. Oct 23 at 16:42
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I strongly doubt that was just a hug.

Embrasser was already used to mean to kiss since a couple of centuries because of the double meaning of baiser so there is absolutely no way for jamais personne ne l'avait baisée comme ça to have been used here.

There are several hints suggesting a sensual kiss:

  1. Adrien caresses Blanche's bare back
  2. Blanche is feeling/smelling Adrien's mustache
  3. After the event, she thinks someone finally loves her
  4. Adrien apologizes

Here is what Littré wrote in 1873-1874 in his embrasser definition that shows that 70 years before Aragon's writing, the shift from hug to kiss was already observed

On lit parfois dans les auteurs contemporains : il lui embrasse la main. C'est mal parler ; il faut dire : il lui baise la main. Embrasser c'est non appliquer la bouche, mais serrer dans les bras.

  • Thank you. I agree with these four points strongly suggest they kissed, but I wouldn't like to rely too much on this. I prefer to concentrate on the possible double meaning of embrasser. In the link you gave it is stated that baisser has had a double meaning for a couple of centuries, but not specifically that embrasser was used to replace it for that long. Are you sure this is correct? In any case, thank you, this was very helpful. – Salamano Oct 22 at 14:52
  • Answer updated with a reference – jlliagre Oct 22 at 21:29
  • Thank you! That's very helpful to know. – Salamano Oct 23 at 13:15
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I think your feeling is right, it means "to hug". Looking in "Trésor de la langue française", the first definition of "embrasser" fits perfectly well the very act of hugging:

Prendre entre ses bras en serrant contre soi.

While looking in more popular sources this meaning is considered litterary:

  1. Donner des baisers à quelqu'un : Un père qui embrasse ses enfants.
  2. Littéraire. Prendre, tenir entre ses bras quelqu'un ou quelque chose ; étreindre : Il embrassait le réverbère pour éviter de tomber.

Nowadays, in common speach, when talking about people interracting with each other, I also think this would be understood as kissing by a huge majority of people. At least in Belgium and I guess France also.

  • Thank you, so I guess it's likely to have been both and it's just hard to tell, since this is a use in literature (and old literature at that). – Salamano Oct 22 at 14:53
  • Maybe if I had read that book I would have known for sure, but that's not the case. It would be interresting to get the translations of that text to different languages just to see which version was chosen... – Laurent S. Oct 22 at 15:17
  • Yes, that's true... Sadly it's a pretty rare book these days. – Salamano Oct 23 at 13:16
  • @LaurentS. Je t'ai mis un message chez Cosette. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Nov 12 at 11:27

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