Garde-feu, garde-fou, garde-vue, garde-boue, garde-à-vous
gaar-duh fuh, gaar-duh foo, gaar-duh vew, gaar-duh boo, gaar-dah-VOO. Click below to hear this.*
Firescreen, guardrail, visor, mudguard, attention!
Today’s post is utterly useless. Unless you count tonguetwisters as useful, that is.
I give you five words that sound similar, but with slight distinctions in their pronunciation. See if you can hear them. To help you along, you get three different people saying all five words!
As you can see, these words have little to do with each other, apart from the fact that they are constructed in the same way. Un garde-feu is a firescreen–you know, that thing you put in front of the fireplace that the sparks jump over anyway and burn a hole in your rug.
Un garde-fou is the railing they put on bridges to keep crazy people (des fous) from jumping over, but they jump anyway.
Un garde-vue is a sun visor. It protects your vision, la vue, but you squint anyway because it’s afternoon and the sun is low in the sky.
Un garde-boue is one of those flaps that are supposed to keep the mud off your car. Do they work? Not really. Try driving your car down a muddy country road. What did you think was going to happen?
And garde-à-vous is the command they use in the military to bring the troops to attention. In French, attention! just means watch it!, for example when someone is about to step off the curb into traffic, or say something unflattering about the boss as he approaches behind the speaker.
Garde-à-vous translates more or less as watch yourself!. In addition to being a command, you could be au garde-à-vous, like someone who is constantly on the alert.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio files: