Social Question

AstroChuck's avatar

Why are so many movie theaters named "The Bijou"?

Asked by AstroChuck (36570 points ) June 7th, 2010

I’m pretty sure that bijou is the French word for jewel. How does this apply to a theater that shows films?
Jus’ wond’rin’.

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16 Answers

jonsblond's avatar

You haven’t been to the midwest lately, have you?

All of our theaters are name “The Palace”.

zenele's avatar

Really GQ! I couldn’t find the connection after spending about 10 minutes in searches.

anartist's avatar

The Jewel is a nice name for a theatre. And maybe saying it in french made it tonier.

DominicX's avatar

According to Wikipedia, “Bijou” is a “generic name for theaters”. What the hell? Why?

I just know “Bijou” as a district in the city of South Lake Tahoe, CA.

lillycoyote's avatar

All I could find was this:

from Breton
This word originated in France
It’s a little gem, this pretty gift from the Breton language to English. That’s the present-day meaning of bijou, which was nicely delivered to our language by the French as early as 1668. An English document of that date refers to “Perfumed gloves, fans, and all sorts of delicate bijoux for each lady to take att her pleasure.”

Reflecting our awareness of its foreign charm, we have kept the French pronunciation of bijou (with a zh sound for the middle consonant) and the strikingly French x to mark the plural. To the French, centuries before the English, it was also a charming import. It came from Breton, a Celtic language spoken in the region of northern France appropriately called Brittany.

In Breton, the word biz means “finger.” The related word bizou means “ring for the finger.” By the 1500s the French had learned the word and generalized it to mean any kind of small jewel or gem, as it does in our language today.

English speakers have generalized the word still further. Anything that can be a little gem can have the exotic sparkle of bijou, whether a book, a painting, a farm, or a house. In Ulysses (1922), recently said to be the greatest novel of the twentieth century, James Joyce wrote of “the most prominent pleasure resorts, Margate with mixed bathing and firstrate hydros and spas, Eastbourne, Scarborough, Margate and so on, beautiful Bournemouth, the Channel islands and similar bijou spots.”* For a time in the mid-twentieth century, Bijou was a favorite name for an elegant movie theater.*

Breton is a member of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family, along with Welsh, Scottish, and Irish. Northwestern Europe was once dominated by Celts; the name Britain as well as Brittany attests to the former importance of Celtic languages. Nowadays there are still about 700,000 speakers of Breton, mostly in France.

Aside from place names, only a few words of Breton have made their way into English; the conquering French and English speakers did not have to learn the language of the peoples they subjugated. In the nineteenth century, however, interest in antiquity brought two more Breton gems into English: menhir (1840) and dolmen (1859), both referring to mysterious stone formations raised by humans in prehistoric times. A menhir is a lone tall upright stone, also called a standing stone in Britain; a dolmen is a man-made cavern, a structure of two or more upright stones with a capstone on the top.

But I can’t find anything about why Bijou, for a time in the mid-twentieth century, Bijou was a favorite name for an elegant movie theater.

Buttonstc's avatar

Nowadays movie theaters are pretty utilitarian looking affairs. Basically long tunnel-like boxes so they can fit as many screens as possible into a multi-plex.

But back in the days when they were first being built, movies occupied a much more important place in the social life of most towns.

Before there was TV and computers, DVD rentals, etc. going to the movies was a much bigger deal for people.

Most of them have now been renovated out of existence, but old time movie palaces were designed to look exactly like a palace. All kinds of ornate gold plating and fancy d├ęcor, velvet drapes, sparkling lights—the whole nine yards, as the saying goes.

To modern sensibilities nowadays it just seems gaudy and over the top, but in those days the local movie theater really was created like an enlarged jewel box.

I would guess that style would explain the name, implying something really beautiful, decorative and special.

I’m sure there are plenty of archived photos on the net which would illustrate this.

The only place still standing that I can remember would be the one in Hollywood with all the actors handprints in concrete. Graumanns Chinese Theatre obviously has an ornate Oriental theme, but in the days when it was built that was considered quite exotic and special.

In smaller towns all across the country that ornate style (whether Chinese or not) still prevailed. But nowadays it’s mostly the name Bijou that carries these memories of a bygone era.

Most have been renovated to the strictly utilitarian, if not torn down altogether.

breedmitch's avatar

As Buttonstc alluded, I’ve heard several smaller Broadway houses refered to as “jewel boxes”. There has to be a connection.

Buttonstc's avatar

I can’t do links from iPhone but if you go to Google images and input “Old Time Movie Palace” there are some beautiful color shots.

When you look at these, it really does give you the feeling of literally being inside a jewel box. Nowadays people see it as tacky, but back in the day, it was considered something special.

There are also a few images in another search of one Bijou done in art-deco style and even tho a b/w photo, still looks so classy.

janbb's avatar

We had a couple of theatres in my town when I was young that had turrets near the ceiling and clouds projected across it. None were named the Bijou but they could have been.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, because ‘la crise de la vache folle’ also sounds a lot better than ‘mad-cow disease crisis’ or ‘bovine spongiform encephalopathy’.

French is a beautiful language.

zenele's avatar

Okay it’s been 24 hours and we don’t have an answer yet. Weird. Where all all the flutherbrains? Jeruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuubaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa???!!!

Buttonstc's avatar

I think mine is as close as you’ll get :)

zenele's avatar

@Buttonstc Every word has a history and a first use – someone, somewhere must know how and when and why bijou entered the lexicon to mean theatre. Your guess is lovely, though, but just that.

From Answers.com (but I’m still not completely satisfied):

Word Origins: bijou
from Breton
This word originated in France

It’s a little gem, this pretty gift from the Breton language to English. That’s the present-day meaning of bijou, which was nicely delivered to our language by the French as early as 1668. An English document of that date refers to “Perfumed gloves, fans, and all sorts of delicate bijoux for each lady to take att her pleasure.”

Reflecting our awareness of its foreign charm, we have kept the French pronunciation of bijou (with a zh sound for the middle consonant) and the strikingly French x to mark the plural. To the French, centuries before the English, it was also a charming import. It came from Breton, a Celtic language spoken in the region of northern France appropriately called Brittany.

In Breton, the word biz means “finger.” The related word bizou means “ring for the finger.” By the 1500s the French had learned the word and generalized it to mean any kind of small jewel or gem, as it does in our language today.

English speakers have generalized the word still further. Anything that can be a little gem can have the exotic sparkle of bijou, whether a book, a painting, a farm, or a house. In Ulysses (1922), recently said to be the greatest novel of the twentieth century, James Joyce wrote of “the most prominent pleasure resorts, Margate with mixed bathing and firstrate hydros and spas, Eastbourne, Scarborough, Margate and so on, beautiful Bournemouth, the Channel islands and similar bijou spots.” For a time in the mid-twentieth century, Bijou was a favorite name for an elegant movie theater.

Breton is a member of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family, along with Welsh, Scottish, and Irish. Northwestern Europe was once dominated by Celts; the name Britain as well as Brittany attests to the former importance of Celtic languages. Nowadays there are still about 700,000 speakers of Breton, mostly in France.

Aside from place names, only a few words of Breton have made their way into English; the conquering French and English speakers did not have to learn the language of the peoples they subjugated. In the nineteenth century, however, interest in antiquity brought two more Breton gems into English: menhir (1840) and dolmen (1859), both referring to mysterious stone formations raised by humans in prehistoric times. A menhir is a lone tall upright stone, also called a standing stone in Britain; a dolmen is a man-made cavern, a structure of two or more upright stones with a capstone on the top.

lillycoyote's avatar

@zenele Isn’t that pretty much what I said ? See above. Pay attention dear! :-)

zenele's avatar

@lillycoyote In my defense, I am slightly more blind than I am senile.

lillycoyote's avatar

@zenele You’re a bit ahead of me then, because I am both slightly blind and slightly senile.

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