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June 07, 2010


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I am unduly fond of the word louche. Whenever I hear it or see it, I am instantly and powerfully reminded of my late, great friend Denis Lemon, the publisher of the UK's Gay News, from whose lips I first heard it. Sometimes words are like aromas from childhood — they can be time machines.

Love louche, but it's definitely used to describe locations of the seedy or seamy variety. In French you'd refer to a "quartier louche," a disreputable neighborhood. My favorite user of the term is Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited, the king of the "quartier louche."

Thanks for clarifying, Jessica. "The louche world of Fleet Street" certainly qualifies as well. But generally speaking (as I carefully phrased my statement), I've seen "louche" used in U.S. English mostly for personal descriptions.

I thought I remembered learning "louche" in connection with the man Germaine Greer was once briefly married to, and yes, thank you Google Books, here it is from Greer's collection, "The Madwoman's Underpants":

"He [Paul du Feu] is a very sexy man, in a battered and nuggety sort of way, and subsequently the underground press did manage to run very louche and tasteless pictures of him, but for Cosmo he was as thoroughly camouflaged as any playmate."

As this (I think) shows, another distinction between "sketchy" and "louche" is that "louche" can be attractively wrong-side-of-the-tracks, while "sketchy" is never desirable.

Jan: Thank you for that marvelous passage. It was Germaine Greer who introduced me to "feckless," which she used on every third page in one of her books (can't remember which at the moment). It made me wonder whether you could call someone "feckful."

haha! My mother also picked up feckless from Germaine Greer. She loved using the word. She even named a funny little tomcat Feck (because he wasn't feckless, and she just liked the word.) I've always thought of louche as rather like "kitsch" in that it's essentially useless and tasteless but somehow likeable, or at least not contemptible.

There is a book review in the Wall street Journal for "Furious Love"
By Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, about Liz Taylor and Richerd Burton.

QUOTE Far more interesting are the tales of life among the A-listers, none more riveting than a drunken party during which, according to Burton, Rachel Roberts abused her husband, Rex Harrison, "sexually, morally, physically and in every other way." As something of a grand finale to the evening, Roberts set upon her dog. Guest Tennessee Williams, who had a high tolerance for louche behavior, asked to leave. "Let's face it," Ms. Taylor once said, "a lot of my life has lacked dignity."
Now that's louche if Tennessee Williams couldn't take it!

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