Tes gueules!

Tes gueules!

tay GULL! Click below to hear this.

Shut up!

Did you read yesterday’s post, “Intéressés par les réseaux sociaux?”? If not, you should go there now and read it, because it asks the question I’m going to answer today.

The problem with yesterday’s post is pretty much the same as the problem with today’s. It’s all in the numbers.

If you read the tweet carefully (I’ve inserted it below so you can have another look at it), you’ll notice that the first word, an adjective addressing itself to the readers, is in the plural: intéressés. It’s a shortcut for are you interested?. Not just you personally, but all the readers.

And the last word of the tweet is also in the plural: contributeurs. The tweet is inviting (all) the readers to become contributors to the site.

But did you also notice that the two verbs embedded in the middle of the tweet–hésite and deviens–are in the singular? They are in the tu form, and that form can be used only to address one individual at a time. Evidently the writer wasn’t paying attention, or couldn’t decide whether to address his/her readers as a group or as individuals. Or, since Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters, the writer was trying to reduce the count….

Which brings us to today’s phrase. My graduate advisor at the University of Chicago once told of an irascible colleague of his, to whom French was a second (or third…) language. This prof became annoyed with his students one day and shouted at them: “Tes gueules!”

Another impossibility! Gramatically, it suffers from the same inconsistency as the tweet we’ve been looking at. An adjective in French must agree with the thing possessed, not with the possessor. So instead of asking all the students to shut their mouth (one per student is the normal distribution), he seems to be asking one student to shut his or her multiple mouths. How many mouths can a person have?

By the way, this expression is not at all polite, referring as it does to the mouth of an animal, not a person. It’s the equivalent of saying Shut your trap! in English. Or traps.


2 responses to “Tes gueules!

  1. Actually, it should be written “Ta gueule”, “gueule” being the mouth of an animal, and as humans have only one mouth, gueule is singular.

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