Starting your day with Zipf’s Law

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News stories are one of the great ways to start your day with an encounter with Zipf’s Law–by virtue of being the “new”s, they bring new words into your life, and by virtue of things usually staying in the news for a few days, you’ll get to review them in the days to come.  I’ve found a great French news podcast, and I like to listen to it on the way to work every morning.  (Sorry–I can’t find a web page, but you can see their Twitter feed here.  Try searching iTunes for France Culture Matin.)  My command of French being as weak as it is, I run into Zipf’s Law in the first sentence every morning.  The announcer always opens the broadcast with  Bon jour, bon réveil a tous.  What the heck is réveil?  Turns out that it has multiple meanings.

  • le réveil (fin du sommeil): waking, waking up, awakening.
  • le réveil (horloge qui sonne): alarm clock.

Yesterday I talked about the cute video about the guy and his cat.  In the video, the guy says that one good thing about having a cat is that it can be a réveil–alarm clock–for you.  (He also says that the bad thing is that the time is completely random.)

There’s a related word:

  • le réveillon: Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve dinner.

One evening I had a glass of wine with the beautiful Françoise after work.  At the end of the evening, she either told me that she was going to visit her mother in Brittany for Christmas Eve, or that we should get together for Christmas Eve.  My French is so bad that I couldn’t tell, and no matter how many times I ask her to repeat herself, she never seems to believe that I don’t understand half of what I hear.  I didn’t know what was happening on Christmas until I got a text from her on Christmas Eve saying that the only lift that she could find to the réveillon that we were apparently going to in the ‘burbs was on a motorcycle.  Zipf’s Law!

Now, where there’s a noun, you might suspect that there’s a verb, and sure enough, we have one:

  • réveillonner: to celebrate Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.  A delightful verb if I’ve ever heard one.

Where does all of this come from?  I would guess from this verb:

  • veiller: to stay awake, or to keep a vigil over someone, to sit by their bedside.

Bon réveil, and may the odds of Zipf’s Law be ever in your favor!

4 thoughts on “Starting your day with Zipf’s Law”

  1. watch it though, you might end up doing the wrong thing if you insist on celebrating by “réveiller” someone (it’s still to wake up), instead of “réveillonner” – what I presume you’ll have in mind during the next holiday season 🙂


  2. You didn’t correct “réveillonner” yet, for Christmas Eve .
    Yes the root is veille, like waking hours/sleeping hours, heures de veille, and veiller as you said . With this comes surveiller in all its close meanings . A noticeable tip about “veille” is it means eve : Christmas Eve is “la veille de Noël” .
    “Réveil” is what you said, but “éveil”, “éveiller” can mean like “réveiller” waking up, to wake up, but also in the spiritual meaning : “l’éveil”, when you reach the Buddha level, when at last you become a realized human .

    Liked by 1 person

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