Thursday, 22 September 2011

An Actual Oubliette

I had often heard and used the word oubliette, but until a couple of weeks ago I had never actually seen one.

An oubliette is a dungeon with an entrance (usually in the ceiling) but no exit. If you meet a chap you don't like, you can throw him into an oubliette and then forget about him entirely. The French for forget is oublier, hence the name.

Of course, despite the rumours, I don't own an actual dungeon, but the word is so useful as a metaphor that I use it regularly. I've even used the word on this blog here and here. The OED mentions that oubliette is almost always used figuratively. Then, on holiday, I was visiting the castle of Najac and saw this sign:

A ladre, by the way, is a miser. So the sign says Tower of the Misers, Ancient Oubliette. And next to the sign was a door (apologies for the quality of the photos, I had only my phone).

And here is the best photograph I could take of the interior of the metaphor.

It only remains to mention that I also visited Albi, which is the town after which the Albigensian Heresy was named, although it's better known as Catharism, which means purity. Catharism is very important in the history of buggery as I explained in this old post.


  1. When my kids were little we had a Dorling Kindersley CD rom of a medieval castle, and it included an oubliette, the mere notion of which really distressed my young son, the idea of being locked up and forgotten about was so frightening, it must have been a terrible way to die.
    not so metaphorical
    thanks for sharing

  2. You've given me today's task: to embed oubliette into one of my sentences, and not just to my children when they stall about doing their math homework.