Tonguetwister Tuesday !
Si c’est rond c’est point carré.
see say raw say pwaa kaa-RAY. Click below to hear this pronounced !
If it’s round, it’s not at all square.
This is more of an amusing saying than a tonguetwister. It’s not all that hard to say. But, as we have mentioned before, French is full of homonyms, and this whole sentence is one.
Check the grammar first: Correctly, the second clause would say ce n’est point carré. But as so often happens, the ne drops out and the other half of the negative expression stands alone. Ne…point means not at all.
So far so good. But now, you have to know your history to recognize the homonyms. Here’s the other version:
Cicéron c’est Poincaré.
The pronunciation is precisely the same–no difference. But now the sentence says:
Cicero is Poincaré.
If you have studied Roman history, Roman philosophy, essay writers, or ancient Roman politics, you know all about Cicero. He’s the guy who made famous the saying “To each his own” (Suum cuique, in Latin) and many other axiomatic statements and observations on human nature.
And Poincaré ? Not Raymond Poincaré, who was President and Prime Minister of France. This is Jules Henri Poincaré, his cousin, and a brilliant and influential philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. One of his beliefs was that “the aim of science is prediction rather than, say, explanation.” You can read more at the source of that quote, here. He wrote a good deal about geometry, and it’s a nice touch that today’s phrase uses geometric language.
Unless you are a mathematician and a scientist, I don’t recommend the Wikipedia article on Poincaré. It’s highly technical. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, on the other hand, quoted above, offers some hope of comprehension to the non-specialist.
As for common points between the thought of Cicéron and that of Poincaré, I can’t say. I suspect that today’s phrase came about purely as wordplay. But if you can find some commonalities, feel free to enlighten us all !