That Laputan institution the Académie Française has been at it again, with the usual chaotic results. The impending loss of the circumflex - that dinky little hat that is everyone's favourite (and can be helpful in translating into English, as it often denotes a missing 's') - is causing particular outrage, as well it might. Most of the other changes seem either pointless or mad. 'Ognon' for 'oignon' - what's that about? And one in particular seems rather sad - 'Nénuphar' (water lily), one of the most beautiful words in French, is to become 'Nénufar' for no good reason at all.
'Nenuphar' is a word that has its place in English poetry - in Oscar Wilde's overwrought poem The Sphinx, a high water mark of Decadent verse:
'Or did huge Apis from his car
Leap down and lay before your feet
Big blossoms of the honey-sweet
And honey-coloured Nenuphar?'
Wilde owed the rhyme to his young friend and admirer Robert Sherard, who suggested it when Oscar told him of his struggle to find a suitable 'ar' rhyme for this particular quatrain of The Sphinx. Sherard was touchingly proud of his contribution, writing that 'On the day when I had found 'nenuphar' for the wanting rhyme, I was made as proud by his thanks as though I had achieved great things in literature.' Which he never did; Sherard's chief claim to fame is that he was the first biographer of Oscar Wilde (The Story of an Unhappy Friendship, privately printed in 1902) - a subject to which he frequently returned. But he was also 'the man who thought of Nenuphar'.