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In Rabelais' Gargantua, in Chapter 13, we find a discussion on the best means to wipe one's bum.

You can find Urquhart's translation here. I am specifically interested in the conclusion:

But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs

(emphasis mine)

In Rabelais' original, this is:

Mais, concluent, je dys et mantiens qu’il n’y a tel torchecul que d’un oyzon bien dumeté, pourveu qu’on luy tienne la teste entre les jambes

(emphasis mine -- source)

Which in contemporary French is typically rendered as "oisillon bien duveté" i.e.,:

  • "oisillon" — a baby bird, a fledgling
  • "bien duveté" — fluffy, well downed

Why did Urquhart pick "goose", and even more specifically, "neck of a goose"?

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It's not a oisillon, it's a oison.

A oison is a gosling, i.e., a baby goose. See Wiktionary. (A oie is a goose; knowing this is what made me look oison up in the dictionary.)

So why did Urquhart pick goose and not gosling? I don't know. It seems like a translation error to me. He did at least get the right species, but I expect a gosling's down feathers are even softer than a goose's.

Why the neck? Presumably because, if you're holding a goose's head between your legs, the neck is the part that is in the appropriate position.

Why do some contemporary French sources translate it from Rabelais' French as a oisillon bien duveté? Maybe that's also a translation error.

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  • Thank you very much. oison rather than oisillon makes sense, and the probable explanation regarding neck does as well. I really appreciate it! yesterday
  • For what it's worth, the Russian translation has it as "что нет лучшей подтирки, чем гусенок с нежным пушком" (source) i.e. a gosling (гусенок) with soft (нежным) down/fluff (пушком). 16 hours ago

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