Chauffeur – What’s in a Name?

While speaking to a client recently, we realised that he didn’t know the origin of the word ‘Chauffeur’. So, we told him and he was so interested that we thought we’d share this with a wider audience.

Way back in the late 19th and first years of the 20th century, most motor vehicles were fairly primitive contraptions. In fact, some of the very earliest were steam driven and coal or wood fired. Although many people speak about motor car history in terms of the Germans, British and Americans, it’s often overlooked that the French were also huge pioneers and massively influential in the field.

Now the French word for ‘stoker’ is “Chauffeur” and it relates to making something hot or hotter. While we don’t usually sit around in the office practising our French all day, we do know this links to other functions relating to adding heat. Examples include “chauffage” for heating and “chaudière” for ‘boiler’.

This has two links into the role of the chauffeur.  Firstly he (in the early days it was almost always a ‘he’) literally had to put fuel into the boiler by stoking with coal and wood. When petrol/gasoline arrived, somebody forgot to invent electric ignition,so the chauffeurs of the period also had to pre-heat hot tubes in the cylinder head to get things going.

Therefore, the role was a mixture of a ‘stoker’ and a ‘person who adds heat’.  Chauffeur stuck!

Strictly speaking, as French nouns are either masculine or feminine, a female chauffeur is a chauffeuse.   This term never really sat easily in English because it sounds affected and the plural, “chauffeuses”, sounds distinctly odd. The term has also followed the trend in modern English that prefers to avoid differentiating by gender.

So, today, a chauffeuse tends to be called a chauffeur in the same way that other feminine terms are also disappearing – such as actress, waitress, hostess and so on, to be replaced by a universal masculine equivalent.

We hope you found that interesting. What does it mean for the next time you’re choosing one of our luxury limousine hire fleet? Absolutely nothing!  Au revoir!