'péniches' in Paris

‘péniches’ in Paris – photograph: JLPC/Wikimedia Commons




Nowadays, the French feminine noun péniche denotes a barge. It was borrowed in the early 19th century from English pinnace with the following English meanings:

a small rowed boat forming part of the equipment of a warship or other large vessel;

a small light vessel in attendance on a larger warship; it was first used in this sense by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1804 when he was planning the invasion of England.

Since the Second World War, péniche de débarquement has denoted a landing craft.

The plural péniches is used colloquially to mean big feet and big shoes.


The English pinnace is in turn a borrowing from the Middle French feminine noun pinasse, also pinace, which originally denoted a long, narrow, light and fast vessel. The Modern French pinasse now denotes a flat-bottomed boat used for fishing on the littoral of south-western France.

This French noun is itself from Spanish pinaza, composed of pino, pine tree, and the suffix -aza, the boat being so called on account of the material from which it was constructed. (The French noun pinasse is also used in the Vosges region to denote the Scots pine.)

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