Verre plein, je te vide; verre vide, je te plains.
vair plaa, zhtuh VEED; vair veed, zhtuh PLAA. Click below to hear this.
Full glass, I empty you; empty glass, I pity you.
This one is fun! It uses a rhetorical device called a chiasmus (ki-AZ-mus) in English, un chiasme (uh keeAA-sm) in French. That means that the expression or phrase is divided into two balanced parts–but the two elements of each part change places, or cross over.
The fancy word comes from the Greek, and all it really means is “like a chi“, the letter x in the Greek alphabet. Your nerves do this somewhere in your brain, and your chromosomes do it too: they cross over and exchange information.
Does that sound like double talk? It is, in a way! It sounds as if you are saying the same thing, but in reverse. For example:
Il faut manger pour vivre, et non pas vivre pour manger. You should eat to live, and not live to eat.
In the case of our tonguetwister, however, it’s a pun. You are not saying exactly the same thing–it only sounds that way.
The two elements that are repeated are vide and plein/plains. Vide means empty, as either an adjective or a verb. Plein means full, the opposite of empty. So far so good.
But plaindre means to pity. Conjugated, it sounds the same as the adjective plein. So where the meaning should call for Verre vide, je te remplis (Empty glass, I fill you), you hear instead Je te plains, I pity you. It’s what your ear wants, but it’s a surprise for the brain.
Note that none of this would work if we changed the verre into a tasse, because that is feminine, and pronunciation of the adjective plein would change from /plaa/ to /plenn/. See? Just like that, the fun is gone.
Want to make it even funnier? In the second half, say Verre vide, je me plains. That changes I pity you into I am complaining! That’s what happens when plaindre becomes se plaindre, and when no one is filling your glass for you!
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