Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Meeting, “assemblée,” is a general term applicable to any collection of people for secular, sacred, political, conversational, festive, or corporate purposes; in short, to all occasions on which numbers meet together.

It is a term which prevents all verbal disputes, and all abusive and injurious implications by which men are in the habit of stigmatizing societies to which they do not themselves belong.

The legal meeting or assembly of the Athenians was called the “church.” This word “church,” being peculiarly appropriated among us to express a convocation of Catholics in one place, we did not in the first instance apply it to the public assembly of Protestants; but used indeed the expression —“a flock of Huguenots.” Politeness however, which in time explodes all noxious terms, at length employed for the purpose the term “assembly” or “meeting,” which offends no one. In England the dominant Church applies the name of “meeting” to the churches of all the non-conformists.

The word “assembly” is particularly suitable to a collection of persons invited to go and pass their evening at a house where the host receives them with courtesy and kindness, and where play, conversation, supper, and dancing, constitute their amusements. If the number invited be small, it is not called an “assembly,” but a “rendezvous of friends”; and friends are never very numerous.

Assemblies are called, in Italian, “conversazione,” “ridotto.” The word “ridotto” is properly what we once signified by the word “reduit,” intrenchment; but “reduit” having sunk into a term of contempt among us, our editors translated “ridout” by “redoubt.” The papers informed us, among the important intelligence contained in them relating to Europe, that many noblemen of the highest consideration went to take chocolate at the house of the princess Borghese; and that there was a redoubt there. It was announced to Europe, in another paragraph, that there would be a redoubt on the following Tuesday at the house of her excellency the marchioness of Santafior.

It was found, however, that in relating the events of war, it was necessary to speak of real redoubts, which in fact implied things actually redoubtable and formidable, from which cannon were discharged. The word was, therefore, in such circumstances, obviously unsuitable to the “ridotti pacifici,” the pacific redoubts of mere amusement; and the old term “assembly” was restored, which is indeed the only proper one. “Rendezvous” is occasionally used, but it is more adapted to a small company, and most of all for two individuals.

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25