In many fields, the use of foreign terms indicates sophistication and an in-crowd of people who know the correct language. Often you will find that people lord it over folks who use the more plebeian term (i.e. the word in English) instead of the foreign word.
Often, I fear, this is a kind of false sophistication and it bugs me. Unhappily this kind of snobbishness seems to take hold of people in the needlework world. They discover that “pearl cotton” can also be called “perle cotton” and suddenly think that anyone who use the former term is wrong, ignorant, and uninformed.
But this is wrong and a false snobbishness.
Actually either is correct and thread manufacturers use both. “Perle” and “pearl” both mean the same thing — pearl, the jewel that comes from an oyster. Perle is the French word, pearl is the English word. The term comes from the fact that because of the way this cotton is spun, it looks rather like a bunch of beads.
Neither is more correct than the other. In fact “perle cotton” combines a French word with the English spelling of cotton, making something that could be seen as incorrect in two languages instead of the correct term as some would assert.
If you follow what the manufacturer calls the thread, then both would be used because there is no consistency in what they use. For example, Threadworx calls it “pearl” as does Anchor. Anchor’s card is multi-lingual and their spelling of pearl varies with the language. Anchor’s actual skeins say both “pearl cotton” and “coton perle.” DMC, a French company, uses perle. Valdani, a Roumanian company uses “pearl.”
I could go on and on. No consistency, both being used in English, even in books on needlework.
If what we do is translate our terms into English, then we should always use “pearl” because that is English. We always use the term “floss,” even though in French the term is “mouline especial.”
To make it even more confusing in English we use some threads names without translation, for example “floche.” We behave as if it is the name of the thread, such as Pebbly Perle, instead of a generic term for a type of thread that DMC makes.
In other words both are correct. Using “pearl” when writing in English, is no evidence of the ignorance, as a letter writer recently stated, it is evidence of knowing the translation of “perle”
I hope this explanation clears up the understandable mistake that “perle” is the only correct term for this kind of thread; it is not. Both are correct and can be used interchangably.
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