Son of a broker

A Dutch compliment becomes a French insult.

In order to bridge the gap between my last proper job ever and Baldie Inc, a few years ago I translated quite a lot of contemporary Dutch/Flemish→English. Now the little I do consists mainly of bits of elderly Romance and Germanic→English for bobs with an academic roof over their heads. Fils de maquerelle caught me out last night. That the man in question is the son of a whore is evident from the context, but I thought without thinking that this was some weird fishy insult–“Son of a female mackerel,” netted via the Latin macarellus. However, it is apparently from the Middle Dutch makelare, agent (the modern form is makelaar), come to mean madam during its transition to Bourbon French. “Son of an agent” has never been an insult to the Dutch–a nation of brokers, teachers and landlords, with some vague residual awareness of their obligations to Herr Professor Doktor Weber–nor in England, where mackelar also briefly took hold. The merchant banker/wanker pair in Mockney rhyming slang isn’t exactly used or taken as a cheery compliment, but at least the father does not see his sins visited on his son, assuming that he has had the time and the inclination to beget one.

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