I have read the story Madeleine many times to my young son, but there is still one phrase I have not been able to suss out the meaning of. When the doctor uses the telephone, he says:

Fait Danton 22 18, c'est pour une appendicite!

I have done some digging, but cannot figure out what Danton 22 18 is a reference to. I understand the usage of 18 at the end to rhyme, but otherwise I am at a loss. Is Danton the name of a famous street or hospital? Is it supposed to be the name of someone else on staff at the hospital? It seems like there must be enough context information for a fluent French speaker to understand what he meant, but I sadly do not.

1 Answer 1


He's presumably calling the hospital, Danton being the name of the telephone exchange. The original text says “and he dialed: DANton-ten-six-”. The Danton exchange was located at 91 boulevard Saint-Michel in the 5th arrondissement. The number to call would have been DAN-10-06, or in the French translation DAN-22-18.

There is a rue Danton nearby, but I don't know if the name of the exchange had any direct connection to that.

EDIT to incorporate additional information provided by Graffito in a comment:

Until the 1960s, Paris phone numbers were composed of the 3 initial letters in the name of the telephone switch, followed by 4 digits. Some of the indicatifs téléphoniques de Paris were WAGram, CARnot, TURbigo and DIDerot. Examples of the types of rotary dial used during this period can be seen here. Below, the author's illustration of the doctor making the call.

The doctor making the phone call

  • Thanks. Even though I am old enough to remember a lot of "forgotten" technologies, "telephone exchange" was not one I was familiar with. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 17:07
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    @AdrianLarson: Before 1953, Paris phone numbers were composed of 3 letters (depending on the name of the telephone switch) followed by 4 digits. Examples of indicatifs téléphoniques de Paris: WAGram, CARnot, TURbigo, DIDerot. See this picture for letters disposition on rotary dial.
    – Graffito
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 17:12
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    American telephone exchanges worked nearly the same way. The Glenn Miller song PEnnsylvania 6-5000 refers to the telephone number PE6-5000, which would translate to the number 736-5000. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:38
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    @Segorian: Any digital switching system developed in 1974 runs along the lines of telephone exchanges, and doesn't use IP tables in digital routers. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 18:02
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    @Graffito Not 1953 but 1963 and even after that date, Parisian phone numbers were often still named after alphabetical prefix instead of the corresponding digits. The most famous one was Jean Mineur Publicité's Balzac 00 01 shown on every French cinema screen until 1985, when an eighth digit was prepended to these numbers. I remember also Bagatelle 37 37 on French TV (ORTF).
    – jlliagre
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 22:34

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