Thursday, June 07, 2007

French letters

My French-language abilities continue to improve somewhat. In this edition of the blog, I bring you some random observations on the French language (hopefully tolerably amusing/interesting ones, don't run away).

First there is "ooh là la". Thought this was a cliché and French people don't actually say it? Think again. Actually, I thought this as well, since everyone here actually says "oh lo lo". But upon asking around, it appears that this is a northern thing, and ooh là là does exist. What is more, you're not restricted to just the two là làs by any means. For added emphasis, you can là là là until the vaches come home. When watching the French Open the other day (French learned: le tie break, slicer, la double faute, les balles de break) a particularly cack-handed shot on an important point earned no fewer than 8 là làs - Oh là là là là là là là là if you want to play along at home. This reminded me of a show on French TV (never seen it, but seen the ads) with the interesting name of Bo bo bo-bo-bo bo bo-bo. Riiiight. Carefully hyphenated and everything!

Talking of 'northern French' (sorry if I'm repeating myself here, I can't recall) apparently they speak faster and slur their words together more up here than they do down south, where a more nasal drawl is meant to be de rigeur. Clearly, this means that I should move to the south of France, where I might have a fighting chance of understanding normal-speed speech and where the weather is probably not (as it is here) overcast and humid with 20° highs. Seriously, I haven't had a full summer in almost a year and a half, come on!!!

My next fascinating observation is on the subject of 'verlan', a bizarre form of French slang. The ethos behind verlan is to reverse the syllables of words to come up with new slang terms, although that makes it sound far too logical. For example, verlan for 'femme', woman, is 'meuf' - I can kinda see that, I suppose. 'Laisse tomber' - 'drop it, forget about it' is 'laisse beton' (why not laisse bertom, I know not, but whatever). But 'homme' mysteriously becomes 'mec' in backwards form. Where did the c come from then eh? And whose idea was it to monkey about in this random fashion anyway?

I have recently finished reading Merde Actually, sequel to A Year in the Merde, both mildly irritating novels about an Englishman in France. They are irritating, amongst other things, for the way in which the main character is compelled to itemize the appearance of every woman he comes across, in a cross between some sort of porn, a medieval blaizon, and the beginning of every Sweet Valley High book ever written (don't pretend you don't know what I is talkin about). He then mostly proceeds to sleep with them. On the other hand, he is occasionally humorous on the subject of French language and culture, and it provides for some arch little 'oh yes, I too have experienced that particular facet of the French psyche during the period I have spent living amongst the strange creatures' moments. One subject upon which he waxes in exaggerated fashion is that of Franglais, having a character who speaks entirely in butchered Franglais form.

Franglais is not, unlike Engrish or the like, a term denoting the mangling of the language by non-natives. Rather, it is generally used to indicate the judicious sprinkling of one's speech with French terms (if you're anglophone) or English terms (if francophone). Despite the Academie Française's best efforts, English c'est cool - reflected not only by such hilarious French music videos as "Shake ton booty" but also by the fact that the road signs say 'STOP' not 'ARRETEZ' (much snappier, you see). People here are also in the habit of dropping in the odd French term. My personal favourite is indicating that I'm just popping upstairs for a 'douche' - French for shower you see, and mildly amusing to the more juvenile amongst us. One term I find particularly grating, on the other hand, is the use of 'on y go' - a nails-down-the-blackboard blend of 'on y va' (let's go) and, obviously enough, the English word 'go'. I do, however, enjoy 'on attaque' - pretty much, 'let's do it' but with the pleasantness of conjuring up some sort of a determined Viking assault on the chore of mopping.
Or 'le mopping' if you so desire.


  1. oo I know one of those backward words.... 'louche' & 'chelou'

  2. Is it "che lou there our kid"?

  3. french letters ,whoooa , u know how to startle us , keep away from dem scouse lads m hahaha luv anteeeeeee

  4. Don't you worry about me Auntie E! I knew the older generation would get that little joke


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