This is from Proust:

Donc Saint- Simon raconte que Maulevrier avait eu l’audace de tendre la main à ses fils. Vous savez, c’est ce Maulevrier dont il dit : « Jamais je ne vis dans cette épaisse bouteille que de l’humeur, de la grossièreté et des sottises.

"humeur" was translated by Moncrieff as 'ill-humor' but I doubt it's a mistranslation since the word is included in a list containing 'grossièreté' and 'sottises', roughly, 'rudeness and silliness'. My question is not why the translation but why P didn't simply write 'mauvaise humeur'? According to


'humeur' is translated 3300 times as humor/humour and only 4 times as 'ill-humor' and at least two of those examples come from Proust and the other two might as well.

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    Compare "She's in one of her moods" or "He's in a state" :)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jan 20 at 11:58

2 Answers 2


The meaning is indeed mauvaise humeur. Proust left out the adjective with a stylistic ellipsis, similar to the one used in the expression être d'une humeur:

Humeur (TLFi)
II., C.- Disposition de caractère, état de réceptivité dans lequel se trouve une personne à un moment donné.
− P. ell. Être d'une humeur ! Être de très mauvaise humeur. − Oh! mais il est d'une humeur, ce soir !... (H. Bataille, Maman Colibri, 1904, I, 13, p. 13).− Votre patron est d'une humeur ! fait-elle en détournant aussitôt les yeux. Encore un après-midi gâché... (Bernanos, Mauv. rêve,1948, p. 904).

Note that the main meaning of humeur is mood, and it is the one used here. It never translates to "humor" when this word relates to laugh, amusement. It can have the mood meaning in English but it is rare (AHD: I'm in no humor to argue). Humeur/humor also share their original meaning: a liquid, a body fluid (cognates with humid).

  • cool, thanks for that.
    – bobsmith76
    Jan 20 at 11:09
  • Dans la langue parlée « Il est d'une humeur. » n'est pas compréhensible si une emphase et une intonation spéciale ne sont pas utilisées.
    – LPH
    Jan 20 at 12:18
  • @LPH C'est exact mais un peu hors sujet.
    – jlliagre
    Jan 20 at 13:01
  • I guess this is similar in English (and probably French): "I'm going to have words with you," where the implication is "confrontational words"
    – bobsmith76
    Jan 20 at 23:02

Technically, Proust didn’t leave out “mauvaise” rather Saint Simon did and Proust or Swann is just quoting it. Saint Simon was writing his private thoughts in a journal which explains the colloquial tongue.

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  • 1
    Il y a une source ?
    – livresque
    Aug 2 at 2:38

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