Friday’s French – chien assis

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Whether you’ve heard the term chien assis – literally sitting dog – or not, you probably don’t know its correct meaning. I didn’t until a couple of days ago although I thought I did. The windows in the photo below have always been referred to by the people I know as chiens assis, but I’ve never been able to fathom why.

Our "capucine" windows
Our “capucine” windows

It’s because they aren’t chiens assis at all – they are lucarnes à croupe or capucine.  What we call dormer windows in English are lucarnes which comes from the Latin word for “light” and they all have different names in French. The chien assis which, it seems, is a word used in the Loire Valley, is actually quite rare and so far, I haven’t found any! Below is a photo from one of my very favourite dictionaries – Dicobat by Jean de Vigan – and it’s full of lots of wonderful definitions and sketches. You may wonder why I have such a dictionary but it’s because I do a lot of translations in the field of building.

Lucarnes in Dicobat by Jean de Vigan, Editions Arcature
Lucarnes in Dicobat by Jean de Vigan, Editions Arcature

So you can see in the photo above, second from the left, what the real chien assis looks like and it does sort of look resemble a sitting dog. The one of the left is a chien couché or lying down dog. It’s also called a lucarne rampante, meaning “creeping” or “crawling”. Below is an example in our street in Blois.

Chien couché or rampant
Chien couché or rampant

Most dormer windows are capucines, but we did find quite a few examples of “lucarne-fronton” on the more bourgeois houses in Blois.

Lucarne fronton
Lucarne fronton

In one of the little towns in Sologne called Mur-de-Sologne, I found examples of pignon and meunière dormer windows.

PIgnon & meunière
PIgnon & meunière

And this house, which we came across in a forest area in Sologne, has a lucarne rampante à jouées biaises  which literally means a “crawling light with sloping reveals”. What a mouthful!

Lucare rampante à jouées biaises

Now just in case you tried to click on the link to my competition post on the Top Ten Châteaux in the Loire Valley yesterday and it didn’t work, you can try again here. All comments welcome!

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20 thoughts on “Friday’s French – chien assis”

  1. Wow! What a really useful post — I didn’t know any of those specific names for lucarnes. Now I’ll have to find a real chien assis! Dicobat is great isn’t it? We don’t own a copy, but our roofer does and he would use it sometimes when we didn’t understand something he wanted to communicate.

    1. When you find one, post a photo on Facebook, then I’ll do a follow-up post with everyone’s photos. I was asked to translate Dicobat and was so sad when it didn’t work out for lack of funding. It would have been such a challenge.

  2. An interesting post, And I thought a lucarne was just a lucarne! I’m not as observant as Tim (or Susan) but it will be really good to point out something to do with structures that he doesn’t already know.

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