Oh, mais c’est la catastrophe!

Super Bowl going badly for your team?

Oh, mais c’est la catastrophe!

OH, may say lah kah-tah-STRUFF!

What a disaster / What a catastrophe!

I hope you won’t have to say this about your team!

Literally, “but it’s the catastrophe”. The English language has neatly pigeonholed your reaction: This play goes in the “disaster” box, along with other disasters and catastrophes. The world is full of them.

The French language, by calling this play “the catastrophe”, subtly raises one’s judgment of the event to apocalyptic levels. There is only one catastrophe really worth talking about, and that is the end of the world. And it has just arrived, because so-and-so just (literally) dropped the ball.

You can say it about a lost cell phone, a deleted file, a piece of gossip, anything that threatens to tear your life apart, at least for the moment. And at that moment, it can feel as if the world is ending, can’t it?

One more thing: Why “but”? There’s no good reason. It’s the French equivalent of “why” in English, when “why” is not a question at all but an exclamation: Why, look who’s here! Why, I would never have guessed! Why, how awful!

A French-speaker who wants to say: Why, yes! Well, sure! Certainly! Well, of course! is likely to say Mais oui! ( may WEE!) It’s a little like saying “but of course!”, which I suspect to have developed as a gentle tease of the French syntax (the way people string their words together). It simply reinforces whatever else you say. It doesn’t really mean “but” at all when used this way, even though that’s what the dictionary says.

In any case, catastrophe is such a fun word to say, you’d better practice it so you’re ready for the Super Bowl. Somebody is bound to make an idiotic play at some point!

(Thanks to my friend and colleague Deborah Joyce for catching my mistake on this post! I broke the ACE Rule: Always Check Everything. Keep keeping me honest, Deborah!)

(Thanks to my friend and colleague Deborah Joyce for catching my mistake on this post! I broke the ACE Rule: Always Check Everything. Keep keeping me honest, Deborah!)

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