Si tu décroches, je pars.
see tew day-crush, zhuh paar. Click below to hear this.*
If you pick up, I’m leaving.
We saw Sarah’s Key the other night. What a powerful, gripping story, and how beautifully it was filmed!
The movie was packed with great French expressions, all of which I would love to write about. But how to remember them all?
I did remember this one, though. Julia and her husband are having an awkward moment, when his cellphone buzzes. Si tu décroches, je pars, she threatens. Reluctantly, he slides the phone into his jacket pocket.
Forget about the human dynamics of the moment. That’s another whole story. What caught my attention here is the verb. Décrocher, in its literal sense, means to unhook, as you would take down a picture hung on the wall, or pick up the earpiece of an old-fashioned telephone–the 1920s kind, where the receiver hangs from a hook.
In English, we pick up the phone. It lies in its cradle (old-fashioned phones again, but a newer generation) and we pick it up to answer it.
That still makes sense with a cellphone. It’s in your pocket, or on the table, and you pick it up and hold it to your ear. (Forget about Bluetooth, will you? It just complicates the issue.) But décrocher? Clearly, the word has lost all of its original meaning as regards phones. The act of answering a cellphone, or any wireless phone, involves button-pushing, not unhooking.
Sometimes languages change to reflect the world around us. And sometimes the world changes, and we continue to use words that describe an older reality. That’s what’s happened here. So go ahead, décrochez, before that buzzing drives us all crazy.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: