Carreau, coeur, pique, trèfle.

Carreau, coeur, pique, trèfle.

kaa-RO, kuhr, peek, TREF-luh. Click below to hear this!  

Diamond, heart, spade, club.

These are les couleurs (the suits) of les cartes à jouer (playing cards). You didn’t think they would have the same names as in English, did you?  That would be way too easy.

Un carreau is a diamond-shaped tile or pane of glass, so that one is easy. Un coeur is a heart. Une pique is not a spade for digging in the garden, but a pike, intended for piercing your opponent’s armor through and through as he rides toward you on horseback. Un trèfle is a clover, not a club, so it won’t do you any good at all to beat anyone over the head with it.

Here are a few cards from a deck I bought in France some years ago. It’s a reproduction of a set that supposedly belonged to Jeanne d’Arc (pronounced zhahn daark; Joan of Arc in English).

In many French decks, l’as (the ace, pronounced lahss) carries the numeral 1 instead of the letter A, and the face cards typically bear the names of famous historical or mythical characters. Here,

le valet = jack = Paris (not the city, but the hero of the Trojan War story);

la dame = queen = la belle eleine (in modern French, la belle Hélène, again of Trojan War fame):

le roi = king = conte de beauvois (le comte de Beauvais, or count of Beauvais).

Interestingly, in English the game of solitaire is often called patience (because that’s what it takes a lot of, in order to win). In French, you say faire une réussite, to play solitaire/patience. And the word réussite? It means success. Optimistic, these French speakers!


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