10 February 2009

The word "apache" in Agatha Christie

I noticed Agatha Christie using the word "apache" to mean thug or ruffian in the last book I read, THE BIG FOUR.
However when I came across it again in THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN I just felt I had to document it.

At the beginning of chapter 2
On turning a corner he came upon a scene of some activity....
"Something has been happening, yes?"
"Mais oui, Monsieur. Two apaches set upon an elderly American gentleman."

Then in chapter 4, the American gentleman is talking to his daughter
"Nothing to tell Ruthie. Some apache fellows got a bit fresh and I shot at them and they got off. That's all."

Apparently the word came into use 1915-20 via French
n. pl. a·paches (ə-pāsh', ä-päsh')
  1. A member of the Parisian underworld.
  2. A thug; a ruffian.
It is a word that has disappeared from the English language unless we are referring to the American Indian tribe.

Have you come across similar words in your reading?


Maria said...

That is very interesting. I would have been very confused had I come across that--wondering why she was referring to American Indians in such a way.

Very glad to learn this little tidbit.

Dorte H said...

Well, after all this is from a time when she could write a book called "Ten Little Niggers"

Kerrie said...

An interesting exmaple of a word that dropped out of English usage in this way. Doesn't seem to have been taken up by nay other writers that I know of. I've never come across it in Semenon for example, but then I am reading Enlgish translations and the original French may well have had apache in it.

Kerrie Smith said...

It is a also a comment isn't it on the evolving nature of the English language. I was only talking recently with someone about how English picks up words from other languages - some of them stick and others don't survive.
Even the words "fellows got a bit fresh" uses fresh in a way we don't use it now.
And you are right about Ten Little Niggers Dorte. all full of politically incorrect connotations now.

KellyJoy said...

Hi, Kerrie! I'm reading The Big Four right this minute and when I saw "Apache" used twice in the span of a couple pages, I had to do a search. I really thought I'd never be able to find out the meaning, but then here's your lovely blog! So thank you very much! I just wanted to mention to you that in my book it's capitalized. It's an ebook, and I'm guessing that this particular use of the word is so uncommon now that they weren't even aware of its existence, and assumed it must refer to Native Americans.

fred said...

Actually i have only seen it referred to as 10 little indians because there were originally 10 indian figurines that disappeared one by one as the participants were killed. The name has been changed to " and then there were none" - but i first read it in the 1960s as "10 little indians"


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