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Is the word "robins" in the text below a metaphor and if so what does it stand for? The only robin found in dictionaries are birds.

"The king was in the habit of filling high posts with men of no [titled] account so that he might, if the fancy took him, dismiss them as he would a valet." The men treated like valets in fact were robins, at the top of the bourgeoisie.

— Richard Sennett, Respect in a World of Inequality, Penguin, p.71.

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  • Every written word is a symbol.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 20, 2016 at 13:01
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is asking about a word that is almost certainly not in the English lexicon. Aug 20, 2016 at 15:08
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    @EdwinAshworth And yet it appears in an English book, it's explained in an English reference, the Chicago Manual of Style has advice on typesetting such words, and the question is about a collision with an English word. If someone asks about the motto of the Order of the Garter, are you going to vote to close that too? Because I think the Queen would be unamused.
    – deadrat
    Aug 20, 2016 at 17:28
  • Shall we conduct a straw poll comparing how many regulars on ELU have encountered 'Honi soit qui mal y pense ' as opposed to how many have come across this usage of 'robin'? The former is given in Collins, ODO, RHK Webster's, M-W, Dictionary.com ... as well as encyclopedias. How many English dictionaries can you find giving the relevant sense of 'robin'? Jacinto says 'Robin is a French word'. And I'd say that's restrictively true for this sense. Aug 20, 2016 at 18:54
  • @EdwinAshworth I'm not sure a poll of this site would do it for me. I expect that a number of regulars have run across the motto, and I'm not surprised that the motto appears in dictionaries. But do any of the words, which are no more English than robin in this sense. Which is essentially what the OP was moved to ask about a text otherwise in English.
    – deadrat
    Aug 21, 2016 at 2:33

1 Answer 1

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Apparently not. From the Wikipedia entry on the French nobility:

Commoners were referred to as roturiers. Magistrates and men of law were sometimes called robins.

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  • I haven't been able to find any evidence that this usage is English. Aug 20, 2016 at 15:09
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    Robin is a French word. Larousse: a member of the robed nobility; a member of parliament in the French Ancient Régime; (literary) man in a robe, a magistrate.
    – Jacinto
    Aug 20, 2016 at 17:33

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