Trempe ton pain, Marie!

Trempe ton pain, Marie!

trahp taw paa, maa-REE. Watch the YouTube video below. I guarantee you will know how to pronounce this by the time you’re done!

Dunk your bread, Marie!

This is one of those songs that every little self-respecting French-speaking child learns, like “Row, row, row your boat.” And, like many children’s songs, it opens a window on French culture from a bygone era.

The melody, first of all, recalls the music made by  une vielle (pronounce vee-ELL), similar to a hurdy-gurdy: it’s an instrument with a sound box, strings, a fingerboard, and a crank which turns a wheel and makes a droning sort of accompaniment. It was popular in France as early as the middle ages, and is still used today, with modifications. Don’t confuse it with une vieille (vee-YAY-yuh), which is an old lady.

Modern French table manners in polite society discourage dunking one’s bread in one’s gravy, or sopping up the leftovers from your plate with your bread. In 18th-century rural company, however, this was acceptable behavior. In fact, your whole dinner might consist of bread and gravy, especially if you were poor.

So trempe ton pain is probably a giveaway that this couple is serving-class. The contrast between the two halves of the song is telling. Here are the words in English, along with a copy of the score, which I scanned from an old out-of-print children’s book. You can enlarge each image by clicking on it. Use your “Back” button to return to this page.

Dunk your bread, Marie,
Dunk your bread, Marie,
Dunk your bread in the gravy.
Dunk your bread, Marie,
Dunk your bread, Marie,
Dunk your bread in the wine.
Sunday we’ll go to the white house,
You in nankeen, me in bazin,
Both of us in high heels.

Clearly they are not on their way to pay a visit to the Obamas. So what’s this “white house”? It probably means some rich person’s house, where the couple would be obliged to dress up for the occasion. Maybe the lord of the manor is throwing a party for the “help”.

Marie will be dressed in nankeen, a handwoven fabric that originated in China. Her husband will wear bazin, another type of fabric. They are wearing their “Sunday best,” because they will be exchanging their everyday sabots (wooden shoes) for delicate shoes with heels, which were the style for both men and women at that period.

One more thing you’ll want to know. What’s with the moi’z en and toi’z en? That’s called “hypercorrection”–being too correct. We need look no further than the following line to understand. Since there is a liaison between deux and escarpins, popular speech also assumes that there must be one between moi or toi and en, even though there is no s, x, or z to make the liaison with.

Now here’s the YouTube video. Enjoy!


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