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"Being in the running", the little-known story of a medieval expression


Synonymous with engagement in a competition or in a debate, do you know the medieval origin of this formula?

"The candidates vying for

the Deux Magots prize

are showing great camaraderie"


"the players are preparing to enter the race in the second round"

... At each trophy race, sports competition, each presidential, legislative and more so, it resurfaces.

Very often confused with the word "list", in the sense of "sequence of words, of signs inscribed one below the other", because of its close sound and the notion of classification that it induces, "lice" can attest to an origin dating back to the Middle Ages.

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In the twelfth century, we can read in the

Trésor de la langue française

, it is borrowed from the Frankish “listia” (“barrier”) to designate a palisade surrounding a fairground which delimits a field and, more precisely, by extension, the space surrounded by palisades where equestrian games and exercises took place.

From the presidential contest

The “lices” in question - generally located near fortified castles and defended by a moat - were not only places reserved for equestrian activities.

Of course, many games took place there, but also various tournaments.


Roman du Hem

, the Anglo-Norman trouvère Sarrasin recounts one of them.

The one in which participated, in 1278, in the Picardy region, the lords of Artois.

He then uses the word "lice" to designate the closed field where the fight took place.

Chateaubriand, in 1803, also wrote in



“The brass bands ring, the barriers are lowered.

One hundred knights spring from the two extremities of the lists, and meet in the middle.

Spears are shattered;

forehead to forehead, the horses collide, and fall.”

Read alsoPascal Ory: “A period name must be the subject of controversy to be recognized”

From this practice, very widespread in the Middle Ages, was born the expression "to enter the lists", that is to say "to fight".

It is said, from the 17th century, of a person who "is in contention", that he engages in a struggle and, figuratively, that he intervenes in a debate of ideas.

It is in this sense that René Huyghe uses it in

Dialogue with the visible

, in 1955. He writes:

“Rubens enters the competition: joining to the lesson of Bruegel, that of the founders of Italian Baroque painting.”

Since then, it has been used mainly to talk about a commitment to a sporting, cultural or political competition, such as the presidential election.

Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2023-03-24

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