Aside

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Un Congé sabbatique

Un Congé sabbatique

uh kaw-zhay sah-bah-TEEK 


A sabbatical leave.

Sandra, a faithful reader, asked where I am. Êtes-vous en vacances? she wants to know. Thank you for asking, Sandra! No, I’m not on vacation (en vacances), and I’m not sick (malade), thank heavens. I applied to myself for a sabbatical (un congé sabbatique) from this blog. It took some time for my guilty conscience (ma mauvaise conscience) to approve it, but the papers finally came through. 

So what am I going to do with myself? I have become deeply involved with a project that feels very important to me. The Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church is kicking off a program of teaching Spanish to  English speakers throughout the Conference. The goal is at least one Spanish class in 100 churches by the end of calendar year 2014. If we have 20 participants in each class, that will be 2000 people learning at least 100 words of Spanish each.

And not just any Spanish. These classes will focus on “radical hospitality”–the kind that makes us go out of our way to make our neighbors feel good. They center in on the question “Who is my neighbor?” And the answer is Everyone (Tout le monde). We are setting out to change ourselves, and in so doing, to transform the world.

Since I have been immersed in writing curriculum in Spanish for the last several months, my head isn’t functioning so well in French for the moment. More to the point, my free time has evaporated. That’s not a complaint, but a fact.

I will be back! And I hope to drop in from time to time to write a random post here and there. So if you want to keep in touch with Spk Frnch, I invite you (if you haven’t already done so) to sign up to receive an email notification whenever there is a new post on the blog.

If you would like to know more about radical hospitality and the Spanish program of the United Methodist Church, you can go to http://www.umcnic.org. If you want to read the story of the Good Samaritan, where the question “Who is my neighbor?” originated, go to Luke 10:25-37 in your Bible, or click here.

Thank you for reading Spk Frnch! See you again around the corner!

Jour de tweets à Paris

Jour de tweets à Paris

zhoor duh twee tah paa-REE. Click below to hear this. 


Day of tweets in Paris.

jdtap-posterI wish I were in Paris today! The Mairie de Paris (Office of the Mayor of Paris) has declared April 19 un jour de tweets à Paris. All day, les twitteurs (people who use Twitter) are invited to tweet their love for Paris using the hashtag #jdtap. They are hoping to produce a verbal, lyrical snapshot of one day all over Paris.

Even more cool, half-a-dozen public squares are featuring a “town crier” (un crieur) who is reading the tweets out loud all day. What a festive way to celebrate April in Paris–everyone’s favorite month in one of the world’s most beloved cities!

The idea was inspired, apparently, by a short book by Georges Pérec called Tentative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien, or Attempt to describe exhaustively a Parisian locale, in which he sat in the Place Saint-Sulpice for a day and described everything he saw and heard. This was published in 1975, so it took close to 40 years and a complete technological revolution to attempt a replication of the experiment.

Here’s a link to the webpage of la Mairie de Paris, with a description of the project, and it even has a basic guide to Twitter (in French)!

But I should get offline here and let you read some of these tweets for yourself! One more thing before I go: the official word for hashtag is dièse. The tag itself, #jdtap, is pronounced /deeEZZ-zhee-day-tay-ah-pay/. If you don’t “do” Twitter, you can still enjoy the tweets. Just Google #jdtap, or click on this link. It will take you straight to the Twitter page. See if you can find the tweet from Spk Frnch (@spkfrnch)!

Daniel, fonce!

Daniel, fonce!

daa-nyell, FAWSS! Click below to hear this. 


Daniel, go in now!

Okay, here we go! Last segment of The Tourist, for your enjoyment. (The first five scenes began here.) You may press the PLAY button!

Elise, having read her note, calmly sets fire to it in her tea saucer, then stands and walks away from the café, leaving the commotion behind her. Further orders are yelled: Save the letter! Scotland Yard wants to know what’s going on. Paris has spun into chaos. The van guys shout: Daniel, fonce!
No more covert surveillance. Break your cover, go in now, save the letter, put out the fire!
It’s too late. The field operative carefully scoops up the ashes, black and fluttery, and slides them into (an envelope? a handkerchief? I have forgotten. It’s certainly not a zip lock baggie). The instructions that we were shown over Elise’s shoulder are gone, surely they are irretrievably gone. The police are at a dead end. Aren’t they?
Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself. This is the end of the line for us, at least in this movie, because Elise is on her way to Venice where they don’t speak French, following those very instructions.
But there are two more things to be said. One is about the word foncer in French. You would not believe the variety of contexts in which you can use this word! Here, it means to run very fast towards something or to charge full speed ahead. But in the kitchen, it can mean to line, as in lining a pie plate with crust. In industry, it can mean to dig vertically, as in digging a well. On the road, it can mean to floor the accelerator, risking a ticket. In the clothing industry, it can mean to dye, when you are darkening the color of the fabric. And, by extension, it’s what happens to the leaves in autumn.
And all this because the word foncer is derived from le fond, meaning bottom. (No, not yours; that’s your derrière.) The concept behind foncer is to take something to its endpoint, not to stop until you are done.
In that same spirit, charging ahead with one last factoid: Did you know that The Tourist was a remake of a French movie? It was made in 2005 and called Anthony Zimmer. Here’s a link to a plot summary of the original movie.
See you around the corner! I’ll have another fun post–on a different topic–in a few days.

Chipez-le!

Chipez-le!

shee-pay-LUH! Click below to hear this. 


Grab him!

(Back to the movie. Press PLAY! It’s getting exciting!)

So we see the bicycle messenger (le coursier) ride onto the scene. He weaves his way among the tables in the sidewalk café, and stops to speak to the waiter. Having been pointed towards Elise, he approaches her table and hands her that envelope. (Did you like that? I backed it up a few seconds for you.)

And then all heck breaks loose. Somebody in Scotland Yard shouts Grab him! into the phone. The detective in the van shouts Chipez-le! into the ear of the field operative.* Chaos erupts in the café; tables are overturned, dishes crash to the ground, customers scream. The coursier is nabbed.

Oh, wait, wait! Pause again!

Chipez-le has nothing to do with chipmunks, but it does have to do with chips. The origin of all these words was a Germanic word which meant a chip of wood. Would you believe that that’s where French got the word une chipe, which is a rag? According to the etymology dictionaries, that’s what seamstresses call the scraps of fabric that they take home from their workplace. (Is that the same as stealing sticky notes and staplers from the office?)

So une chipe (now an old-fashioned word) was something you would grab, steal, snag, swipe, nab, or any one of a long list of other synonyms. And chiper (not at all old-fashioned) is the verb that goes with it.

Okay, why don’t you just keep it on PAUSE? I’ll be back in a few days with the final French expression from The Tourist. Be prepared for more drama!

*I just learned this term thanks to my friend Carrie, the ex-cop. There is a word for everything!

On dirait un coursier.

On dirait un coursier.

aw dee-ray uh koor-seeYAY. Click below to hear this. 


Looks like a messenger.

Cut to the van! (We’re watching a movie, remember? If you want to rewind to the beginning, click here and read the previous three posts.)

When the detectives in the van notice the bicycle messenger rolling into the café, they sit up a little straighter. One of them makes an “uh-oh” sort of sound. The disembodied voice in the ear of the detectives asks what’s happening. On dirait un coursier, they reply.

Most English-speakers would probably say, Looks like a messenger. They are, after all, interpreting what they are seeing. Something Is Happening, but they haven’t yet figured out its import, or whether it is even relevant.

So let’s pause the film again. Un coursier? Well, when you run errands, that’s called faire les courses. Don’t confuse it with faire un cours, which means to teach a course (usually, a university-level class). Les courses is what you call it when you are out and running around trying to get things done. It is related to the verb courirto runUn coursier is simply the person who gets paid to do all that for you. Most often, he is delivering des colis to people.

Why on a bicycle? Because with a bike, he can weave through traffic, beat lights, endanger the lives of everyone around him, and feel the rush of adrenaline. At least that’s what the hapless pedestrians in his way think. So what happens when the detectives spot him?

Next time on Spk FrnchLe coursier et les détectives.

Alternate link to audio file: on-dirait-un-coursier

J’ai un colis pour vous.

J’ai un colis pour vous.

zhay uh koh-LEE poor voo. Click below to hear this. 


I have a package for you.

And the story goes on! Oh, you just tuned in? We’re talking about the movie The Tourist. You can go back here to catch the beginning of the conversation. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.

Thanks for coming back! So we had Elise Ward sitting in the sidewalk café, drinking her tea. And here comes a fellow riding a bike, weaving among the tables. We see him dismount and speak to the waiter, who points towards Elise and says C’est madame. The messenger carries an envelope to her table and hands it to her with a charming smile. J’ai un colis pour vous.

Let’s put the movie on “pause” for a moment. Note, first of all, that the waiter doesn’t say That’s her (C’est elle). He says C’est madame, which dignifies her and gives her a certain amount of status. It is clear, just from that tiny interaction, that Elise Ward is not only well-known in this establishment, but is well-respected.

Secondly, if you look up le colis in the dictionary, you are likely to find package as the first meaning. But accordingly to French postal regulations, un courrier may weigh up to 3kg, and un colis may weigh anywhere from 0 to 30kg. So it can be an envelope, a small parcel, or even a great big carton.

Okay, you can push “play” now. Elise Ward opens the large envelope, only to find a smaller one inside. She sees the monogram, AP, on the envelope. She reads the note, with only a trace of a smile. And then she burns the note and the envelope in her tea saucer.

Sorry, that’s all the time we have for today! Next time we’ll talk about this messenger. He elicits quite a reaction from the mysterious men in the van.

Alternate link to audio file: jai-un-colis-pour-vous

J’ai un visuel.

J’ai un visuel.

zhay uh vee-zew-ELL. Click below to hear this. 


I have a visual.

Or, as they often say in the movies, I’ve got eyes on her. These days, that usually means some kind of cool x-ray camera, or an infrared gadget, or a high-tech scope snaked through a heating duct. In this movie–The Tourist, which we talked about yesterday, the “eyes” are good old-fashioned binoculars, because the movie takes place in the 1970s. The haircuts and the flared pant-legs give that much away.

And what is our target doing, as the men in the van watch her? Is she breaking into a bank, drawing a gun, setting a bomb? None of the above. Elle boit son thé, declares the watcher, and this news is so far from the expected that he is asked to repeat it. She’s drinking her tea.

This is where we realize that we are not to take everything we see on the screen at face value. If the screenwriter can inject comedy into what is usually a tense, suspenseful moment, then what else is he going to play with? We are in for a ride.

Note how odd the use of the word visual is, in both languages. It is an adjective, but it is being used as a noun. That’s common in French, if you are using it to save yourself the trouble of repeating a noun. For example, Tu préfères la voiture rouge ou la bleue? You could answer La rouge, bien sûr! and your reply would be complete, without the need for any additional words. In English, you would have to say The red one, of course!

Today’s phrase is just another example of the same rule. What the detectives are asking is Do you have visual confirmation that you are looking at the right person, and can you tell me what she is doing? But who has time for all that, when you are in the spy business?

In my next post, another phrase from The Tourist!

Alternate link to audio file: jai-un-visuel

J’ai déjà passé la commande.

J’ai déjà passé la commande.

zhay day-zhah paa-say lah kuh-MAHD. Click below to hear this. 


I’ve already put in the order.

When you learn a new expression, it’s very important to know when you can use it! Of what use is it to you, otherwise?

You will need this expression if you are a waiter in a Parisian café, serving a beautiful woman named Elise Ward, who frequents the café and has begun ordering her usual breakfast, and you know what she is going to order because you’ve heard it a hundred times before, so you complete her sentence for her and you add, J’ai déjà passé la commande. That’s customer service!

In French, you don’t enter an order, or put it in, or place it. If you are the server, you are passing the order to the kitchen, in order that they prepare the food, so the verb to use is passer. If you are the customer, you say commander if you are discussing history (for example: J’ai commandé du thé, pas du café!). When actually placing the order, you don’t use that verb at all, any more than you do in English. You don’t say I am ordering tea, you say I would like tea. In French, Je prends un thé, s’il vous plaît.

But I know some of you would like me to get back to the beautiful woman, even if you may never be that café server. Where did she come from? Well, her real name is Angelina Jolie, and she stars across from Johnny Depp in a 2010 movie called The Tourist. It’s a romantic comedy thriller (feel free to rearrange those words as you like, depending on which aspect of movies you appreciate most). The movie opens with Elise Ward walking in Paris, and we quickly become aware that she is being watched–not only by admiring members of the male sex, but also by some shady-looking characters in a van. Aha, surveillance!

The first ten or 15 minutes of the movie take place in Paris, before we cut to Scotland Yard, so I am going to give you several more phrases from The Tourist in my next few posts. Stay tuned!

Alternative link to audio file: jai-deja-passe-la-commande

Il a été verbalisé.

Il a été verbalisé.

ee lah ay-tay vair-bah-lee-ZAY. Click below to hear this. 


He was written up.

What exactly happens when you are verbalisé, or written up, for that matter?

It involves the police…but it may not be as bad as you think it will be. There are two ways this story can finish:

Il a dû payer une amende de 100 euros. (ee lah dew pay-yay ew naa-mahd duh sah uh-ROW.) 


 He had to pay a 100-euro fine.

If that was the case, you could translate verbalisé as fined, but the word does not specifically refer to the fine. Translating it that way is taking a leap ahead to the outcome of the report that was filed by the police.

How do we know this? Because the underlying meaning of verbaliser is simply to put into words. If you are sitting in a therapist’s office and manage at last to say what’s bothering you, you are verbalizing, or vous verbalisez.

In an alternative universe, when he is stopped by the police, here’s what happens: …mais il n’a heureusement pas eu d’amende. (may eel nah uh-ruhz-mah pah ew daa-MAHD.)


 But, fortunately, he didn’t have a fine (didn’t get fined).

In American English, we would call that a citation or a warning. Basically, the police officer shakes his/her finger at you and says “Don’t do that again.” And you breathe a sigh of relief and buckle your seatbelt, or get the taillight fixed, or otherwise repair your errant ways.

Alternate links to audio files:

il–a-ete-verbalise
il-a-du-payer-une-amende
pas-eu-damende

Il a commis un impair.

Il a commis un impair.

ee lah kuh-mee uh naa-PAIR. Click below to hear this. 


He made a gaffe.

Or a blunder. It’s more than a simple mistake, because it’s embarrassing both to him and to others around him. Like asking someone how his wife is, when the scandalous divorce is all over the news. That’s the sort of thing that casts a shocked, albeit momentary, silence over the whole room.

We already talked about faire une gaffe, which means the same thing, at this link and this link. Here’s another way to say it: Il a commis un impair. It doesn’t have to do with impairment, even though one source of such blunders is being impaired by too much alcohol.

Un nombre impair is an odd number. It’s also something that doesn’t fit, that clashes with behavior norms, like an indiscretion. So when we say Il a commis un impair, we are saying that he said or did something that stuck out like a sore thumb. It didn’t match the “civilized” behavior that was expected of him.

It’s not that he’s the one who ran off with other guy’s wife. He merely said something that displayed his obliviousness or his insensitivity. There’s hope for him; he may mend his ways and pay better attention to his surroundings, and think before he speaks. In the meantime, people will think him odd because of the impair he has committed.

Alternate link to audio file:  il-a-commis-un-impair

La Soupe au lait (recette en français)

La Soupe au lait (recette en français)

lah soo poh lay (ruh-say tah frah-SAY). Click below to hear this. 


Milk soup (recipe in French)

In my last post, I told you how to say that someone is very quick-tempered, and it turned out to have more to do with cooking than with people. So here is the recipe I promised. This is only one among hundreds, so feel free to play with it!

Ingrédients :

1 petit oignon
1 blanc de poireau
1 carotte
1 petite branche de céleri
30 g de beurre
1 c. à soupe rase de farine
1/2 litre de lait entier
quelques branches de cerfeuil
noix muscade
sel, poivre

Méthode :

1. Epluchez l’oignon, le blanc de poireau, la carotte et le céleri. Coupez-les en tout petits dés.
2. Faites fondre 20 g de beurre dans une casserole assez grande et faites-y revenir les légumes jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient bien fondus, mais sans les laisser colorer. Poudrez avec la farine, mélangez sans laisser roussir.
3. Mouillez avec le lait, salez, poivrez, râpez un peu de noix muscade.
Laissez frémir 20 mn, en mélangeant souvent pour que la soupe ne se sauve pas.
4. Versez la soupe dans une soupière chaude, incorporez une petite noix de beurre frais et parsemez de cerfeuil.

A few notes: le cerfeuil is chervil. It’s an herb widely used in France, but not easily found fresh in the US, at least not where I live. Used the dried herb, or substitute your favorite herb for garnishing.

Frémir literally means to tremble, which is an apt description of what your soupshould be doing while it is simmering. It should not be actively bubbling, just sort of shivering to heat it slowly and gently. And keep stirring, as the recipe tells you to do, because otherwise la soupe se sauverathe soup will save itself. In other words, it will escape–from the pot. It will boil over.

As for the bread I told you was an essential part of this soup…you can pour the soup over toasted French country-style bread, serve the toasted slices alongside, top with croutons, or blend toasted breadcrumbs into the soup. Just be sure to use day-old bread, so it won’t get too soggy in the soup. For more versions of this soup, just Google “soupe au lait recette”.

And remember the trick I told you about in my last post? Leave your long-handled wooden spoon standing in the pot, or lay it across the top of the pot, to keep the soup inside where it belongs. Follow this link to learn why that works.

Alternate link to audio file: la-soupe-au-lait-recette

Elle est très soupe au lait!

Elle est très soupe au lait!

ay lay tray soo poh lay! Click below to hear this. 


She’s very quick-tempered.

What on earth does milk soup have to do with being quick-tempered?

So glad you asked! Remember the last time you tried to heat milk on the stovetop? Maybe you were making a cup of cocoa, or a white sauce.  and you had the pan simmering just perfectly, tiny bubbles around the edges, and you turned your back for an instant to reach for a spoon–and there’s your pan, sputtering and sizzling all over the burner, erupting like a volcano.

That’s what she’s like. She’s calm on the surface, and then the tiniest thing sets her off, and she erupts in anger. So you do your best not to upset her in the first place. I can’t tell you how to handle her, but I can tell you how to make la soupe au lait, and I can tell you how to keep your soup from exploding.

This is French/Belgian comfort food at its most basic. There must be as many recipes for la soupe au lait as there are mothers in the world. But the essential ingredients are milk, bread, and a little seasoning. The bread may be in the form of croutons from day-old bread, toasted slices of stale bread, or toasted bread crumbs. You may pour the soup over the bread or run the soup through the food processor. You may add sugar, butter, eggs, cheese, or vegetables. You may also call it la panade, which specifically refers to the presence of bread in the soup.

Oh, and how to keep it from boiling over? It sounds like magic, but it’s science. Just leave a wooden spoon in the pan, or lay a spoon across the top of the pan. In my next post, I’ll explain why that works! And I’ll even include a recipe.

Alternate link to audio file: elle-est-tres-soupe-au-lait

Rédaction, révision, édition, et montage

Rédaction, révision, édition, et montage

ray-dack-seeYAW, ray-vee-zeeYAW, ay-dee-seeYAW, ay maw-TAHZH. Click below to hear this. 


Editing, editing, publishing, and editing.

Where is Susan, from Sesame Street, when we need her?

Let’s start from the top:

La rédaction can be almost anything from drafting an article, an essay, a letter, or whatever, to making final editorial decisions on the document. It may involve re-writing, correcting, cutting, or just approving what has been written. It can also refer to the editor or the editorial board or the editing department. Note that in English, the word redaction has taken on a somewhat different meaning: in law, for example, a document may be redacted to obscure sensitive material such as names or dates, so the opposing side cannot see prejudicial information. This is done by covering the offending text with black strips. Just another form of editing.

La révision refers specifically to the act of looking over (“re-seeing”) a document, and making changes if necessary. In the world of mechanics, it refers to repairing a car, an appliance, or a piece of machinery. Interestingly, the noun has two different verbs that correspond to it. One is revoir, which means to review, and the other is réviser, which means to edit, to fix, or to give a checkup to. In other words, editing. Again.

How about l’édition? Oddly, that’s the one that “doesn’t belong”. Un éditeur is a publisher. Éditer means to publish, not to edit. That’s the work of la rédaction or le rédacteur or la rédactrice. And une maison d’édition is a publishing house. That’s where a book becomes a book, whether it’s made out of paper and glue or zeroes and ones.

And le montage? Ah, now we are in a different world altogether. Now we are in Hollywood, or anywhere else where movies are made and loved. We are in yesterday’s world, where they should have edited the film I talked about. And what do they call the award for best editor at the César ceremonies? That’s le prix du meilleur montage. The word designates not the person who does it, but the act of editing itself…although you can’t hand a trophy to an editing job, so someone has to accept it.

Alternate link to audio file: redaction-revision-edition-montage

Le film sera tourné à Chicago.

Le film sera tourné à Chicago.

luh feelm srah toor-nay ah shee-kah-GO. Click below to hear this. 


The film will be shot in Chicago.

Some films are so bad that they deserve to be shot at dawn. Indeed, why wait till dawn? Just get it over with.

movie-camera

But the good ones are merely shot with a camera. In English, anyway. French ones aren’t shot at all–they are turnedtournés. Which makes sense, when you think about movie cameras, with their big reels mounted on top.

Nowadays, I suppose, some films are tournés in digital. No more scissors or razor blades or whatever they use to cut frames, no more scraps of film on the cutting room floor, no more splicing tape. But we still hope for a good job of editing, which is what they should have done with Krakatoa, East of Java, possibly the worst movie we ever saw. It was 131 very long minutes of exploding volcanoes and flowing lava. 

Alternate audio file link: le-film-sera-tourne-a-chicago

Ça a peu de chances de réussir.

Ça a peu de chances de réussir.

sah ah puhd shahss duh ray-ew-SEER. Click below to hear this. 


It’s a long shot.

That’s a lot of French words for such a short expression in English! Here’s what the French says, when translated literally: That has few chances of succeeding.

You can shoot all you want at the deer (rabbit, tin can on a stump), but if you’re too far away for the gun in your hand, you won’t be able to hit the target. It’s a long shot. In fact, even if your weapon is a camera instead of a gun, without a telephoto lens, the camera will never see the shot the way your eyes do. Unless you are as nearsighted as I am, in which case you will never see it until it punches you in the nose.

That much is clear. The real trouble comes with the concept of “few”–in both French and English. What’s the difference between few and a few? To begin with, few is fewer then a few. If I have a few apples, it is a neutral way of saying that I have some. If I have few apples, I have not very many. The emphasis is on how small the number is; there may not be enough apples to go around.

In French, the same thing happens. If I have quelques pommes, I have some or a few apples. If I have peu de pommes, I have not very many apples. Again, the emphasis is on the small number.

Note that in French you can’t say that you have un peu de pommes. That’s because apple is a “count noun”, a thing that can be counted, but un peu de must be used with a “mass noun”, something that cannot be counted: un peu de neige, for example (a little snow). You can’t count the snowflakes!

So, in the same way, if you think your project has a fighting chance of succeeding, you would say: Ça a quelques chances de réussir. I wish you well.

Alternate audio file link: ca-a-peu-de-chances-de-reussir

Le Palmarès des César et des Oscar (2e partie)

Le Palmarès des César et des Oscar (seconde partie)

luh pahl-mah-ress day say-ZAA ray day zuss-KAAR (suh-gawd paar-TEE). Click below to hear this. 


The list of award-winners at the Césars and the Oscars (part 2).

You might like to start today’s post by (re-)reading my last one, because it was part one of this post. It was all about the big winners of the 2013 Oscars and the César awards. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you!

So, now that you’ve read it…

Did you notice the interesting phenomenon that reflects the psyche of both countries, and what we all value in films? Argo wins big in the US, Amour wins even bigger in France. What does it mean?

Clearly, the French appreciate their own, and love a brilliantly-acted film that leaves you thinking for days. We Americans appreciate a good action-packed patriotic flick, but a thinker? We’re not so sure about that. And too many of us fear the subtitle.
The criss-cross pattern of awards between the two countries actually has a name. It is a rhetorical device, which means a stylistic trick that helps to convey or emphasize the underlying meaning. This particular device is called a chiasmus in English (pronounced /ki-AZZ-muss/, with a long i). It’s not to be confused with a chiasma, which is a phenomenon in genetics, having something to do with chromosomes, I think. But the origin of both words is the same: it means “like the Greek letter chi”, which is written like this in upper and lower case: Χχ.
It is admittedly a bit of a stretch to apply this linguistic term to a pair of films, but let’s play with it anyway. In language, it happens when you use two words or phrases that are the same, then invert them in the second half of the utterance. For instance, in English, a quote from Shakespeare: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” (Macbeth I.i) In French, a quote fro Molière that should be familiar to all: “Il faut manger pour vivre et non pas vivre pour manger.
Do you see how this applies to our movies?
If you want to know more about chiasmus, or chiasme in French (pronounced / key-AA-smuh/), here are a couple of links:
And if not? Just keep walking, there’s nothing to see here. There’s nothing of interest here, move right along.
Alternate audio file link: palmares-des-cesar-oscar-2

Le Palmarès des César et des Oscar (1ère partie)

Le Palmarès des César et des Oscar

luh pahl-mah-ress day say-ZAA ray day zuss-KAAR. Click below to hear this. 


The list of award-winners at the Césars and the Oscars.

If you’re in the US, there’s a good chance you watched the Oscars–that is, the Academy Awards. If you’re in France, you’re more likely to have watched the César award ceremonies.

The big winner in the US was Argo, a gripping film about a 1980s CIA operation to rescue six American hostages in Iran. It took three Oscars: best picture, best adapted screenplay, and best film editing. It also won awards in several other venues. Here’s a trailer of the movie: 

The French film Amour took the Oscar for the best foreign film. Period.

In the meantime (almost literally: The César awards ceremony took place the night before the Oscars), Amour swept away more Césars than you can shake a stick at: best film, best director, best screenplay, best actor, and best actress. And Argo? Best foreign film. Period.

I should mention that Amour has a very small cast. The main characters, a husband and wife, are played by the beloved French actors Emanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, both in their 80s. They are extraordinary, beautiful people, incredible actors, and they carry the film. Isabelle Huppert, another well-known actress, plays their daughter. Here’s a trailer for Amour:

I’m sure you have noticed that I have a bias regarding these films. I liked Argo a lot, and was entertained well, but I loved Amour and couldn’t shake the movie for days. It made me think about living and dying, aging, living well, about beauty, about right and wrong, and above all about the nature of love, the title of the movie.

Next time, I’ll write about the curious coincidence in the pattern of awards for these films. Or is it coincidence?

Alternate audio file link: le-palmares-des-cesar-et-des-oscar

Il fait toujours la manche au même coin de rue.

Il fait toujours la manche au même coin de rue.

eel fay too-zhoor lah mah shoh memm kwaa duh REW. Click below to hear this. 


He always begs on the same street corner.

Au coin de la rue is not an entirely precise location. It could be on the corner or around the corner, which makes a difference if you are waiting to meet a spy or trying to find the house of the beautiful girl (or guy) you met last night. (Wait…are the spy and the girl the same person?) Literally, it means at the corner of the street. Technically,of course, a corner normally involves two streets, and at isn’t very precise either, since it generally designates a location near.

But what about our panhandler? He shouldn’t be too hard to spot. He’s there every day. He has a cardboard sign WILL WORK FOR FOOD, or PLEASE HELP. He holds out an empty paper coffee cup, and his jeans are ragged at the edges.

Isn’t it interesting that the English word panhandler and the French expression faire la manche are related? Don’t believe me? First, go back and (re-)read my post from the other day, where we looked at the word manche. Depending on whether it’s masculine or feminine, it means either handle or sleeve.

While the origin of the expression is unclear, it is thought that the expression faire la manche (literally, to do the sleeve) dates back to the removable sleeves that women wore on their gowns in the middle ages. What is known, because it is attested in literature, is that a knight would beg his lady for a sleeve to carry into battle as a token of love. Surely easier to hang onto in the heat of battle than a lock of hair.

Now picture our man holding out a battered tin saucepan by the handle, hoping for a handout. While le manche (handle) and la manche (sleeve) are strictly speaking different words, it is hard not to make the mental connection between them. Begging for a sleeve, begging for a handout.

Of course, the real problem is: What are you going to do? Would you stand on a corner in six inches of snow, with the wind blowing through your coat, if you weren’t desperate? Give the guy a dollar, or buy him a cup of coffee or a hot meal, and remind yourself: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Alternate audio file link: faire-la-manche

…l’Oscar du meilleur second rôle féminin…

…l’Oscar du meilleur second rôle féminin…

…loh-scaar dew may-yuhr suh-gaw roll fay-mee-NAA… Click below to hear this. 


the Oscar for the best actress in a supporting role…

Last night–February 24, 2013–was the Oscars, that is, the ceremony where the Oscars are awarded to the “best” everything in the movies. Not everyone enjoys the over-the-top glamour, the bad jokes, the fumbling breathless speeches thanking everyone under the sun, the too-short film clips, the outrageous gowns that could not possibly be comfortable. Plus it’s loooong.

But if you like the movies, it’s fun to know who won what. Here’s a tweet in French from last evening:

RT @BFMTV: Anne Hathaway a remporté l’Oscar du meilleur second rôle féminin dans “Les Misérables”. #Oscars #Hathaway

Just for fun, I thought I would deconstruct the tweet for those of you who don’t do Twitter.

RT: means “retweet”. If you like what someone said, you can send it out again so that even more people will see it.

@BFMTV: the username of the person or organization who sent the original tweet. All usernames are preceded with @, to identify them as names as opposed to a random collection of letter. This blog is @spkfrnch on Twitter.

Anne Hathaway a remporté…: The message itself. The total message, including punctuation, spaces, usernames, and everything else, cannot exceed 140 characters. Keeps posters from long-winded rants, and poses a challenge to word-lovers and puzzlers.

Translation of the message: Anne Hathaway got (literally, carried away) the Oscar for best actress in a supporting role (literally, of the second feminine rolein “Les Misérables”.

#Oscars #Hathaway: These are called hashtags in English. It’s really just a way to designate a search term. By clicking on the hashtags, you can find what other tweeters are saying about the same topic. As for French, both France and Québec have organizations that encourage the purity of the language (which means discouraging anglicisms, among other goals). So in France, #Oscars is un mot-dièse, whereas in Québec they favor un mot-clic.

Just in case you were wondering, les mot-dièse that I use most often on Twitter for Spk Frnch are #FrenchIsFun, #frenchaudio, and (if I have room!) #frenchexpression. Look me up!

Alternate audio file link: loscar-du-meilleur-second-role-feminin

C’est une autre paire de manches.

C’est une autre paire de manches.

say ew noh-truh pair duh MAHSH. Click below to hear this. 


That’s another kettle of fish.

Or, as English-speakers often say, That’s a whole nother kettle of fish.

Nother? Is that a word? Well, no. The way we say an other is another, which changes the pronunciation of the initial a from /aa/ to /uh/. So if we want to add some emphasis to our kettle of fish, we tuck in the word whole, in the sense of completely. We would say That’s a whole different story, so we construct the idiomatic sentence the same way–and by deconstructing one word, invent a new one: nother. 

Which brings us around to the fish. Where are the fish? Ah. Glad you asked. Ça, c’est une autre paire de manches. Literally? That’s another pair of sleeves. Or, alternatively, That’s another pair of handles. No, I haven’t completely lost it. The word manche exists in both the masculine and the feminine. Un manche is a handle, and une manche is a sleeve.

There is a vague relationship between the two: picture a saucepan as the body of a shirt, and the handle is a sleeve, sticking out sideways. (Don’t ask me what happened to the other sleeve. Maybe the seamstress got tired of sewing.)

Which all makes sense when you consider the etymology of the word. In Latin, manus means hand. Various words were derived in Late Latin from this one source, including manica, a sleeve that covered the hand, and manicus, a handle.

We actually can’t tell which sense of manche is intended in the expression, since the sentence does not reveal the gender of the noun, but most writers seem to assume that we are talking sleeves here. But that is also une autre paire de manches.

Alternate audio file link: cest-une-autre-paire-de-manches