Subtile Sotise

James Lipton in the expanded second edition of An Exaltation of Larks or, The Venereal Game documents the following


This term confused me greatly: of the sergeants I have know, very few were subtle, and I couldn’t believe human nature had changed that much in a mere five hundred years. And so I began a slow search through dusty library stacks for the secret behind a sotelty of sergeauntis. I found it at the end of a very long list of definitions in an exceptionally musty volume. “Sergeant,” the book said, was “a title borne by a lawyer.” Case dismissed.

And embellished with this bit from the French


Au XVe siècle, courte pièce satirique interprétée par une compagnie locale d’amateurs, les Sots […] Les sotties, essentiellement satiriques, étaient jouées par les Confréries joyeuses, collectivités locales d’amateurs, comme notamment la Basoche, association de clercs, ou les Enfants sans souci ; elles représentaient les préoccupations de l’époque, tant sur le plan politique que sur le plan social. [Nicole QUENTIN-MAURER, « SOTTIE ou SOTIE », Encyclopædia Universalis]

The link to the subtle sergeants is via the Basoche:

The Basoche was the guild of legal clerks of the Paris court system under the pre-revolutionary French monarchy, from among whom legal representatives (procureurs) were recruited. It was an ancient institution whose roots are unclear. The word itself derives from the Latin basilica, the kind of building in which the legal trade was practiced in the Middle Ages. [Wikipedia: Basoche]

It was the spelling “sotelty” that put me in mind of the sotie. And so is born a false etymology.

And so for day 1664

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