Il fait toujours la manche au même coin de rue.

Il fait toujours la manche au même coin de rue.

eel fay too-zhoor lah mah shoh memm kwaa duh REW. Click below to hear this. 

He always begs on the same street corner.

Au coin de la rue is not an entirely precise location. It could be on the corner or around the corner, which makes a difference if you are waiting to meet a spy or trying to find the house of the beautiful girl (or guy) you met last night. (Wait…are the spy and the girl the same person?) Literally, it means at the corner of the street. Technically,of course, a corner normally involves two streets, and at isn’t very precise either, since it generally designates a location near.

But what about our panhandler? He shouldn’t be too hard to spot. He’s there every day. He has a cardboard sign WILL WORK FOR FOOD, or PLEASE HELP. He holds out an empty paper coffee cup, and his jeans are ragged at the edges.

Isn’t it interesting that the English word panhandler and the French expression faire la manche are related? Don’t believe me? First, go back and (re-)read my post from the other day, where we looked at the word manche. Depending on whether it’s masculine or feminine, it means either handle or sleeve.

While the origin of the expression is unclear, it is thought that the expression faire la manche (literally, to do the sleeve) dates back to the removable sleeves that women wore on their gowns in the middle ages. What is known, because it is attested in literature, is that a knight would beg his lady for a sleeve to carry into battle as a token of love. Surely easier to hang onto in the heat of battle than a lock of hair.

Now picture our man holding out a battered tin saucepan by the handle, hoping for a handout. While le manche (handle) and la manche (sleeve) are strictly speaking different words, it is hard not to make the mental connection between them. Begging for a sleeve, begging for a handout.

Of course, the real problem is: What are you going to do? Would you stand on a corner in six inches of snow, with the wind blowing through your coat, if you weren’t desperate? Give the guy a dollar, or buy him a cup of coffee or a hot meal, and remind yourself: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Alternate audio file link: faire-la-manche

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