Tu ne vas pas dire “s’il te plaît”?

The obvious answer to yesterday’s phrase:

Tu ne vas pas dire “s’il te plaît”?

tune vah pah deer seel tuh PLAY?

Aren’t you going to say “please”?

Of course. Guys, are you listening? If this is what comes out of the kitchen instead of a plate of amuse-bouche, then you need to say: s’il te plaît!

But wait, you say…I thought the word for please was s’il vous plaît?

It is. If you’re speaking to a group of people, that is, or to a stranger, or to your boss. When speaking to just one person who is close to you (in terms of intimacy, not geographical distance), then you say s’il te plaît.

And don’t you forget it, or you may not get fed!

Anyway, you say, I never could remember where those apostrophes and things go…so help me out here!

Sure. Easy. The direct translation is if it please you (yes, that’s right, that’s a subjunctive in English!). “If” in French is si. But si il doesn’t suit the sense of aesthetics that is native to the language, so the two words are elided, or slid together: s’il. Prettier and easier to say, don’t you think?

And the little “hat” (that’s called a circumflex in English) over the i in plaît? Back in the history of the French language, while it was still evolving, the word was plaist, although the s was silent. It’s related to plaisir (play-ZEER), meaning pleasure. After a while, people stopped writing the s because they didn’t hear it spoken, though some grammarians felt that it was important to show that a letter had been left out, as a sign of the word’s history. Hence the circumflex.

Just in case you’re wondering, you can blame a handful of 16th-century writers for this! That was the era of the French Renaissance. Many were eager to prove that French was not some new-fangled language, but had old and honorable roots in Greek and Latin. But that’s a topic for another day!


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