- Quand l‘auteur des Précieuses ridicules apprit que sa troupe avait perdu l’appui de son mécène, sa consternation fut grande. (When the author of Les Précieuses ridicules learned that his troupe had lost the support of its patron, his consternation was great.)
Commentary: Molière is meant. His first great success in Paris was Les Précieuses ridicules (1659).
- Avec cette condemnation venant de Rome, l’aigle de Meaux avait définitivement triomphé du cygne de Cambrai. (With this condemnation coming from Rome, the eagle of Meaux had definitively triumphed over the swan of Cambrai.)
Commentary: Bossuet (1627-1704) and Fénelon (1651-1715) are meant. Bossuet was the bishop of Meaux, and in the Quietist controversy a fierce opponent of the mild-mannered and poetic Fénelon, bishop of Cambrai.
- l’érudit américain (the American scholar)
Commentary: Very frequently used to avoid repeating a scholar’s name. Can be used for a scholar of any nationality (substitute the appropriate proper adjective), so long as it isn’t French: you will never see l’érudit français. Consider also these other cases involving proper adjectives:
- le poéte champenois (the Champagne poet) = Chrétien de Troyes
- le dramaturge normand (the Norman playwright) = Pierre de Corneille
- le philoloque finlandais (the Finnish philologist) = Elias Lönnrot
- la physicienne polonaise (the Polish physicist) = Marie Curie
- l’académicienne belge (the Belgian academician1) = Marguerite Yourcenar
Of course, periphrasis can also be used for things…
- l’astre de la nuit (the moon)
- l’astre du jour (the sun)
- le roi des animaux (The lion)
- le neuvieme art (graphic novels [la bande-dessinée])
- le plat pays (la Belgique)2
…and, whether it is used to refer to people or things, even in French periphrasis can serve legitimate stylistic purposes: for a list of the possibilities, with examples, see the Wikipédia article Périphrase.
In the present file, however, my point (as I said at the outset) is that periphrasis is often used in formal French prose, not so much for stylistic adornment, but rather to avoid repeating a person’s name or using in its place a personal pronoun.
- An académicien/ne is a member of the French Academy.
- “Le chanteur du plat pays” would be a periphrasis for: Jacques Brel.