What do the words purple and flea have in common?
Well in French, there is one word – puce [pys] – that means both purple and flea. It also means (micro)chip or bullet point.
Here are a few expressions featuring puce:
- marché aux puces = flea market
- ma puce = my love, sweetie, honey, dear, sweetheart
- puce électronique = microchip
- puce d’ordinateur = computer chip
- carte à puce = smart card
- puce mémoire = memory card
- puce d’eau = water flea
- puce de sable/mer = sand flea
- liste à puce = bulleted list
- pucer = to chip, tag
- aller faire téter les puces = to go to sleep
- donner la botte aux puces = to go to bed
- avoir la puce à l’oreille = to be vigiliant
- mettre la puce à l’oreille = to suspect, worry
If you were so inclined, you could say: Ma puce, une puce puce puce une puce puce avec une puce puce, or “Sweetie, a puce flea is tagging a puce flea with a puce tag”, but that would be rather silly.
Puce comes from the Old French pu(l)ce (flea), from the Latin pūlicem, from pūlex (flea), from the Proto-Indo-Euopean plúsis (flea). This is also the root of the English word flea, via the Proto-Germanic *flauhaz.
The colour puce is a dark redish-brown or a brownish-purple. It was first used to refer to this colour in about the 17th century in French, and possibly a lot earlier, and in the 18th century in English. It refers to the colour of bloodstains on flea-ridden bedding which would appear as a result of the fleas biting people and leaving their droppings or being squashed.
Puce was apparently a favourite colour of Marie Antoinette, and became fashionable in 19th century Paris.
There are a couple of other words that sound simliar to puce: pouce (thumb, inch) and pousse (growth, shoot). Both are pronounced [pus] though, so there should be no confusion.