Puis-je parler à titre officieux?
pweezh paar-lay ah tee-troh-fee-seeYUH? Click below to hear this.
May I speak off the record?
I love etymologies, you already know that. I think it’s fascinating to see where a word came from and how it came to exist in its current form and with its current meaning. But did you know that a word can acquire a completely opposite or unrelated meaning somewhere along the way?
That’s what happened with officieux and the English word officious. In Latin, a person who was officiosus was obliging, willing to serve. That was also the original meaning — now obsolete — of officious. A lovely kind of person to have as a friend! But nowadays, a person who is officious is a pest, always offering unwanted advice, being pushy about helping, trying to take over the project.
And what about the French? The word has kept some of its original meaning. If you give out information à titre officieux or officieusement, it’s not official, but you are trying to be of service to someone by sharing the information. And when you speak off the record, you are in fact trying to be helpful, perhaps by sharing information that will assist your interviewer in understanding a situation, even if the info may not be quoted. That’s parler à titre officieux. You’re not being a pest, even if the interviewer really, really wants to print what you said.
One more thing: puis-je may look odd to you. It’s the correct inverted interrogative form of the first person singular present tense. In other words, when you want to ask may I? or can I? by inverting the verb and the subject, you need to say puis-je, which is pronounced as a single syllable (that’s a silent e on the end). Peux-je doesn’t exist, because it’s a combination of two weak vowel sounds. But you can still say est-ce que je peux parler officieusement?
Alternate audio file link: puis-je-parler-a-titre-officieux