Attendez-vous à l’imprévu!

Attendez-vous à l’imprévu!

aa-tah-day-VOO ah laa-pray-vew! Click below to hear this pronounced!  

Expect the unexpected!

Seen on a shirt hang tag…but is it a good slogan, and why?

Let’s begin by setting aside logic. I’m buying a shirt, for Pete’s sake…I expect it to be well-made, to fit, to hold up in the wash. In the world of knit shirts, what exactly constitutes the unexpected?

So let’s move on to language, which is why we’re all here anyway, right?

First of all, attendre means to wait for, and can also be used to mean to expect. (Note: the for in English is included in the French word. Don’t try to translate it separately.) Adding the reflexive pronoun and the preposition–s’attendre à–turns a passive state into an active one. It adds a sense of eager anticipation or of dread, depending on what it is that you are expecting.

Now, the unexpected. There are two words in French for this: l’inattendu and l’imprévu. Same translation, but different implications. L’inattendu suggests that, out of a list of possible events or outcomes, this is the one that you thought least likely.

L’imprévu, on the other hand, suggests that this is the outcome that you hadn’t even imagined, the bolt from the blue, the complete surprise. Surely a more vigorous expression all over, with these two word choices!

Finally, there’s the rhythm. It scans like a line of poetry: 4 + 4 syllables. If the writer of this slogan had gone with Attendez-vous à l’inattendu, opting for the poetic repetition of the keyword attendre, the line would scan in 4 + 5 syllables, and would sound unbalanced. The slogan he or she decided upon is balanced, strong, and even contains an internal near-rhyme: vous / -vu.

Is it a good slogan? It didn’t sell me the shirt (it was a gift), but I did keep the tag so I could write about it. It kept nagging me until I gave it its due!

I doubt that the writer thought all this through at the time; they don’t give you that much time in an advertising agency. But this slogan does pass the “It just sounds better” test!

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