C’est quoi ce truc?
say kwahss trewk? Click below to hear this.*
What’s going on?
We saw the most wonderful movie the other evening: La Délicatesse, or Delicacy, starring Audrey Tautou. It’s a story of love, grief, and the possibility of change–all themes that can be (have been!) handled with a heavy hand. But here, they are set before us with the lightest touch, almost without words at times. We are allowed to see; we are not told. And speaking of seeing, the film is brilliant. You should go see it.
Today’s phrase is from the movie. Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) is briefly stuck in the elevator at her workplace, and she mutters to herself C’est quoi ce truc? Literally, What is this thing? The subtitles translate as What’s going on?.
As we learn later, the elevator often gets stuck, so there should be no element of surprise here. A better translation might be Not again!
See how translation is bound by context? The way you translate depends heavily not only on what’s going on in the minds of the story characters, but also on what a speaker of the “target” language might say under the circumstances.
You could say C’est quoi ce truc? when you have momentarily mislaid your keys or your phone, when the doorknob is stuck, when the car won’t start, when the chocolate you thought you had in the fridge is gone, when the phone rings and there’s no one there. It’s not an exclamation of surprise, more a mumble of minor annoyance. Try it. It’s surprisingly satisfying!
*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: