Sunday, 15 November 2009

31. Vocabulaire

Another observation on how words are used here. For some time I've been aware at a subliminal level that the state and the media uses words for public consumption that we would never dream of using for the same audience in the UK and elsewhere in the Anglo-Saxon sphere.. While these words are completely correct, they would be judged by those who judge such things in the UK to be too highbrow, too technical or incomprehensible to yer average Brit. Or all three.. In France, there is a precision of expression - an absolutism - that mandates the use of a word that is totally correct (even if only a small percentage of the public is likely to understand it) in preference to a more widely understood simpler but less precise one. We appear to have swung in the opposite direction in the UK.

Let's take the TV weather forecast for starters. Here, instead of saying it will be cloudy - or "nuageux" - they talk of increased "nébulosité". Compare this with the baby talk by UK weather presenters – bits and pieces of rain, gorgeous sunshine, weather pushing up from the south, or weather lurking out in the Atlantic waiting to attack us. I’m not making these up! And Arctic conditions when it's -1C..! Meanwhile, back at the Météo in France - another common one is to talk about a "perturbation" in the weather when all they really mean is a blip or a change in the weather is imminent - usually for the worse. "Luminosité" is yet another one.

And what is plain and simple in Anglo Saxon - for example, a ring road - becomes the périphérique in French. In the UK I somehow can't imagine White Van Man referring to the M25 around Greater London as the Peripheral Motorway.

Sometimes the centre of a road here is blanked off by a metre-wide strip of red paint to indicate that motorists cannot cross it. This is known here as the axial which I'm sure means nothing to a large percentage of the populace.

Catherine Jentile, the resident TF1 (the major French TV network) correspondent in London always refers to the English language as la langue du Shakespeare (the language of Shakespeare) rather than as English. And the UK/Britain/England becomes la royaume de sa gracieuse Majesté - the kingdom of her gracious Majesty. They often use this indirect form of address when referring to someone or something - for example, someone from Biarritz will invariably be referred to not by their name but as the Biarrot. Every town has an identity form which can be used like this. I'm not suggesting that any of this matters much.. but it's interesting to experience a different slant on how things are viewed. Broadcasters will not dumb down. In the UK, some cultural activities are perceived to be of interest only to a minority - such as the theatre or ballet - whereas here in France they are routinely reported in the television news both in the mornings and evenings.

And if you’re ever considering putting your foot in your mouth, French is the easiest language in the world to do it in. Ask me how I know..! “A”, one of the girls at the rowing club, said during an outing on the river that she had a spare ticket for the local rugby derby match between Biarritz and Bayonne. Later, in the mens’ changing room, when the subject of the game cropped up I mentioned to the others (in French) that “A” had a ticket for me.. This produced howls of laughter..! Apparently this means that I have a crush on her! Another ‘foot in mouth’ moment occurred during an outing on the river, when I was attempting to explain to one of the girls in the crew the technique at the finish of the stroke for getting the oar out of the water and feathering the blade all in one smooth action. I remembered my old coach talking about rolling the handle of the oars (oars = les pelles in French) so I translated this into French as “roulez les pelles” which again produced a gale of laughter. This means to kiss with tongues..!

Meanwhile, some French humour that's doing the rounds..

Jean Pierre trouve sa prof d'anglais tout à fait à son goût, aussi il lui envoie un texte message:

"Douillou sink it is envisageable crak crak wiziou this ivening?"

Scandalisée, elle répond: "Never!"

Alors Jean Pierre, en joie, lui renvoie: "Splendid, disons never, never et demie!"

(Be still my aching sides..!)

Some useful vocab:

mon amour my love

mon ange my angel

mon bébé my baby

ma belle my beautiful (informal)

ma biche my doe

ma bichette my little doe

ma caille my quail (informal)

mon canard my duck

mon chaton my kitten

ma chatte my cat (familiar)

mon cher, ma chère my dear

mon chéri, ma chérie my dearie

mon chou my pastry (informal)

mon chouchou my favorite, blue-eyed boy/girl, pet* (informal)
*as in "teacher's pet"

mon cochon my pig

mon coco my egg

ma cocotte my hen (informal)

mon cœur my heart

ma crotte my dropping (also refers to a small, round goat cheese)

ma fifille my little girl (informal, old-fashioned)

mon grand / ma grande my big guy / girl

mon jésus my Jesus (when talking to a child)

mon lapin my rabbit

ma loutre my otter

mon loup my wolf

ma mie literally "my female friend," but used to mean "my dear/love." (This is a somewhat old-fashioned term contracted from mon amie > m'amie > ma mie. Note that mie also refers to the soft part of bread - the opposite of the crust.)

mon mignon my cutie

mon mimi my pussycat (informal)

mon minet / ma minette my pussycat

mon minou my kitty

ma moitié my half

mon petit / ma petite my little guy / girl

ma poule my hen

mon poulet my chicken

ma poulette my pullet (informal)

ma poupée my doll

mon poussin my chick (informal)

ma puce my flea (informal)

mon sucre d'orge my barley sugar

mon trésor my treasure

mon trognon my (fruit) core (when talking to a child)

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