Ce garçon a bien de l’à-propos!
sgaar-saw ah byaad laa-pro-POH! Click below to hear this.*
That fellow always says the right thing, he’s quick on the draw, he’s witty.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Un propos can be many things: a statement, an intention, a remark, a proposal or proposition, and much more. It’s from the Latin word propositum, and its original form in French (around 1180–very early) was purpos, which also found its way into Middle English.
And if you add à before propos, you get another whole range of translations: by the way, while we’re on that subject, suitable, appropriate, and so on down the list. These are mostly adverbial expressions, used to modify a verb: for example, Il parle très à propos (He speaks very much to the point).
Which brings us back to where we started. À-propos (with a hyphen, this time) can also be a noun! In that case, it’s a quality you possess, not something you do, though that quality may lead you to act in certain ways. If you have de l’à-propos, you always have the clever reply on the tip of your tongue.
In the case of the novel we have been following, Philippe’s younger brother quietly leaves the table during a toast to the newlyweds, and plays a song on the piano: “Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux”, There is no happy love. Céline knows and likes the song. Bruno puts on an air of innocence, but Céline knows that he knows: this is not a happy love. Roguish, but oh so à propos.
*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: