In one of the most striking examples of the use of the word cointe, Amors (the god of Love) in Guillaume de Lorris’ Roman de la Rose (c. 1225) employs the term numerous times in the context of emphasizing the importance of grooming and dressing for the Lover, his new vassal:
Mes qui d’amors se velt pener, il se doit cointement mener.
Hons qui porchace druerie ne vaut neant sanz cointerie.
Cointerie n’est pas orguiauz.
Qui est cointes, il en vaut miaus, por que il soit d’orgueil vuidiez, qu’il ne soit fox n’outrecuidez.
Moine toi bel, selonc ta rente, et de ta robe et de chaucemente: bele robe et bel garnemente amendent home durement.. .223
He who wishes to take up the concerns of love must conduct himself cointely.
The man who seeks true love is nothing without cointerie.
Cointerie is not arrogance.
Whoever is coint is worth more
Provided he is free of arrogance,
Insofar as he is neither crazy nor out of line.
Keep yourself handsome, according to your income, and see to your clothing and shoes: handsome clothes and handsome accessories improve a man a great deal. . .
This passage serves as a first example of how cointe and its derivatives were clearly linked both to appropriate social conduct, one of the general senses of fashion, and to dress and grooming on a level more specifically concerned with consumption. The god of Love’s repeated emphasis on the word indicates the importance of cointerie for the success of the prospective courtly lover. The word represents a quality that was clearly perceptible, and which an observer could judge based on appearance. The lover must cultivate “it,” the mystique of what is often translated as “elegance.” Elegance is a more neutral term than “fashion,” suggesting a classic timeless quality, something like savoir faire. But given its socially charged use in the context of such works as the Rose, I propose that cointe can often be translated more accurately with such terms as “fashionable” or “in style.” Barthes offers the distinction, derived from
Hjelmslev, between “denotation,” where language represents a specific real-world object, and “connotation,” which functions as “metalanguage” to represent scientific and abstract concepts. Metalanguages depend on whole systems of original signifiers as well as real objects.9 Cointe evolves from signifying the abstraction of a certain quality of knowledge to a more complex abstraction describing objects, and people possessing objects that demonstrate the superior knowledge that is fashion. In Barthes’ terminology it is a connotative term, then, rather than a denotative one, part of a metalanguage that links real objects in its valuation system.