Ils ont volé une voiture bien voyante.
eel zaw vuh-lay ewn vwah-tewr byaa vwah-YAHT. Click below to hear this.*
They stole a very conspicuous car.
In some ways, the TV crime shows are all the same. The bad guys almost always do the same things. They are usually terrible shots, they sneer a lot, and there is always a handy getaway car they can steal.
We were watching one the other night. The bad guys needed to swap cars, since the police were on to them, so they grabbed the first car on the left, which turned out to be a bright blue early-model ragtop. You know, one of those really long 70s car.
Did they really think they could disappear into the crowd in something like that? Ils ont volé une voiture bien voyante. That’s a conspicuous car.
Let’s look at the adjective for a moment. Voyant means seeing, in some contexts: for example, in contrasting a sighted person with a blind one.
But cars can’t see, although the newest parallel-parking technology in some cars may appear to prove the contrary. So what does voyant mean as applied to a car?
It doesn’t mean that we can see it, either, even though we can. That would be visible. Wasn’t there another TV show with a high-tech car that could be made invisible at the will of the owner?
What voyant does mean is conspicuous. Voyant(e) can also apply to a person’s manner of dressing, behavior, or other ways of calling attention to oneself, a fancy ring, an over-the-top holiday decoration scheme. We are the ones doing the seeing. How we get from the car is seeing us to We are seeing the car is an interesting sort of linguistic role reversal that I can’t explain, but which intrigues me. It’s a bit like a mirror image: who sees what?
*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: