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these funny idioms French people use # 020

April 21, 2012
We don’t say A word to the wise is enough, but Who understands well will be saved [À bon entendeur, salut].
In my world of music-addict, I’d like to think that a song to the wise is enough.

PS: And yes, since you’re asking, I am writing a new post after more than a year of silence, and I act like it had never happened…

do you wanna be my choux bun?

February 9, 2011
Three blogs and not one to be an excuse for the lack of activity on the two others. More than a month of silence on all fronts however does not imply a lack of thinking about posts. It could even be the contrary. Take this post: I am going to tell you all about all the sweet names I would like to call my Tattooed Man and about the frustration I feel to have to translate them to English. Later I plan to tell you all about the idioms of love and elation in French vs. English. So while keeping me busy Tattooed Man is also very inspiring. Obviously. You can also blame my silence on me for taking a massive lot of teaching this term, which reminds me I ought to do a post or a series on which words you should avoid when teaching in English with a French accent.
Anyway, here is the thing. There is a Tattooed Man in my life and I have massive impulses to sweetly rename him. He’s not a French speaker, so even if I could introduce him to an all new universe of sweet names, my first choice was to use what the English language has to offer. First, there is a problem. And then there will be proper linguistic observations. In the English culture, or maybe I should say in the Midlands culture, anybody, from the cashier at your local swimming-pool to the guy who delivers your grocery, can call you Darling or Love. That’s just for what’s coming from the top of my head. And when I say anyone, I really mean anyone. Interestingly, I stopped getting annoyed by it; exposure effect, I don’t pay attention to it anymore. But now I am annoyed again. It makes those words so common that there are now meaningless. Honey, which is one I still like and I use right now, feels still meaningful, but it is one that applies also to friendship and one that is overheard. That led me to try to find something else and therefore to the first linguistic observation.
It seems to me like the repertoire of sweet names in English is pretty limited compared to French. That obviously could be just due to my own limited English and experience of love in English. But not only in French I know for sure that it is pretty flexible (e.g. I could call Tattooed Man Mon Chou-Fleur [My cauliflower] if I really fancied that, even in the common sweet names, I can cite you between 10 and 20 right now. Try those and see they literal translation.
Mon Cœur [My Heart]
Chéri [Beloved]
Mon Chat [My Cat]
Mon Lapin [My Rabbit]
Doudou [Doudou]
Bébé [Baby]
Mon Chou [My Choux Bun]
Princesse [Princess]
Mon Ange [My Angel]
Ma Puce [My Flea]
Loulou [Loulou]
Ma Caille [My Quail]
Ma Puce [My Flea]
Minou [Kitty]
Mon Trésor [My Treasure]
Mon Amour [My Love]
Ma Douce [My Sweet, where sweet is adjective]
Mon Poussin [My Chick]
Now that’s 18, and I am really not stretching. Those are names that you can hear regularly in France, not of the kind that are unique to a couple and a story. You’ll notice that we like analogies with animal, including parasites, one thing I don’t find in English (though I am not really looking for this anyway, as this category of sweet names is not my favourite).
More importantly, you’ll notice the massive use of possessive articles. The sweet names that don’t have articles in the list actually can be marked too, it’s just that my preference is to the unmarked one for those (generally because the marked one is over-cheesy). That is the thing I get really frustrated about when trying to decide of a sweet name for Tattooed Man. I want the possession mark; sweet names, I realize now, are in French not only a sign of love to the other one, but a social signal to the World. “S/he’s mine, don’t even get close”. Well, you know, we’re French, as much as we are Feminists outside of the bed, when it comes to romantic relationships, we like some tradition. Jealousy, like men making first move, that’s pretty sexy to us if it is just about marking your territory. Likewise we like and practice public displays of affection much, but that’s a story for another time.

these funny idioms French people use # 019

December 25, 2010
This one should actually be titled “This funny idioms English people use”, because your idiom is the funny one. Not funny as awkward, properly funny. It also relies on an assonance, which is always enjoyable.
So, we don’t say I’ve got ants in my pants, but I’ve got needles under my bottom [J’ai des aiguilles sous les fesses].

if your French girlfriend wants to smack you, don’t dial 999 (awkward Frenchism # 001)

December 17, 2010
Earlier today I was explaining to an American colleague how the guy I saw yesterday only smacked me. In a millisecond her face told me I just said something wrong. What I meant is that he just pecked me, although peck does not sound to me strong enough to translate the French smack. Indeed, smack is totally part of the French language, though colloquial. It is a really nice one, because it is obviously a word we stole from English. The meaning is here, we didn’t distorted it: the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines smack as “putting something somewhere with a lot of force so that it makes a loud noise”, and the French smack is all about two pairs of lips meeting in a strong and noisy way. OK, I am only making excuses, because the truth is that the smack as a loud kiss exists in English and that I couldn’t be understood only because I used it as a verb, which does not exist. You can peck someone but the smack is just an event, not an action. I beg to differ but hey… The English smack is also something you can give to a simple friend, when in French you smack only people you exchange fluids with (or might). Therefore there is here potential for awkward Englicisms too: don’t be surprised now if your best French acquaintance avoids you after you said wanting to give her/him a smack.

If you tell your French boyfriend that you’re cold and he is offering you a veste, he is no making fun of you (faux friend # 004)

December 13, 2010
The particular category of cloth words seems to me an never-ending source of bilingual pleasure/frustration. In addition to the previous camisole, here is another case where a shared etymology led to different contemporary meanings. une veste in French is a jacket, but what English speakers call a vest is un débardeur.
Now, if you are on holidays in the French Carribean and lacking of summer clothes, don’t ask for a vest. But don’t resort either to ask a camisole

if your French psychiatrist offers you a camisole, s/he doesn’t have issues with patient/doctor boundaries, but you are in trouble (faux friend # 003)

December 13, 2010
It is not actually a full false friend, as it seems that French Canadian and French Swiss still use camisole in the same sense as English speakers. Even for French the camisole was historically a sleeveless top, used for the night and/or as an underwear. Except that if you go to a French regular lingerie shop nowadays and ask for a camisole after laughing / looking surprised / being outraged (pick your own), they will probably recommend you the kinky lingerie shop next door.
Look at the picture below, and you’ll understand that when your psychiatrist gave you a camisole, s/he was either trying to have you committed or making propositions, but of the kinky kind. Nothing wrong with that, but you might want to disambiguate.

And now you know what your French friend meant last time s/he asked if you wanted a camisole because you were being eccentric…

these funny idioms French people use # 018

November 24, 2010
We don’t push the envelop, but we push the cap/cork [pousser le bouchon]. With the same idea of pushing too far, we also push Grandma in the nettles. Well, actually we are warned not to [Ne pouse pas Mémé dans les orties]. Especially if she is wearing a short or is naked.

© Les Jardiniers Du Dimanche (Arno Denis, Pauline Robiliard, Xavier Coquelet)