le « Système D »

A French postcard entitled 'Le Système D en Action' that shows a soldier in various situations - chiefly with women - where the ability to 'Débrouiller, Dégrouiller, Déméler or otherwise Dem...' (to sort out, to unravel, to untangle and to de...) come in useful in a non-military context.
« Le Système D en Action » Carte postale de ma collection.

In Life, it’s necessary to know how to sort things out, to unravel the knotty problem, to untangle complicated affairs, to de…mystify, declutter, deconstruct the problem. Le système D is all about resourcefulness.

In this carte postale humoristique, we see how a soldier makes use of these skills in a ‘non-military context’. The postcard was produced by A.H. Katz and was typical of the company’s output. Another example, A quoi elles rêvent : la midinette, la nourrice, la mondaine, la bourgeoise can be found here.

I was surprised to find that the term ‘système D‘ was more elusive in origin than I’d expected. It’s identified as a military term, and supposedly one from the Great War, la Grande Guerre, World War One, the First World War (take your pick). One or two websites place its origins ‘Vers 1916‘. It makes sense that it was military slang, along the lines of “improvise, adapt, overcome” but I’ve yet to find the circumstances in which it came into common usage.

What I did find, on the very interesting web site, MENUSTORY.COM :  L’Histoire des menus, les menus de l’Histoire created and developed by M. Yves Françoise and based on his collection, was this item (reproduced by kind permission of M Françoise):

In this menu from the 19e Régiment Territorial d’Infanterie for ‘Réveillon 1914’ – Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve – there are puns and references to events, places or people in the First World War. Examples are ‘Le Pudding Général French’ and ‘Le Potage à la Joffre’. Also featured is ‘Le Filet Système D’.

A reference to this term in a military context by a Territorial regiment at the end of 1914. It’s also reasonable to conclude from the context here that this was not by any means the first occasion of the use of the term. For the joke to be understood, système D needed to have been in common usage among those who sat down to enjoy this fine meal.

So, two (three?) mysteries remain: When and why was the term système D first used, and what was the origin of the meat in ‘le Filet Système D’ that gave this dish its name?! It may be best not to speculate too much.

A final note on ‘Do-Do’ and ‘Do-Due’. « Aller faire dodo » is to go to beddy-byes, « dodue » means plump, or chubby. Maybe they also had military connotations (although I doubt it)!

I hope you’ve found this interesting. If you have information to share on all this, or want to comment on this blog post, do feel free to get in touch using the ‘Contact’ form on the site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s