J’ai un visuel.

J’ai un visuel.

zhay uh vee-zew-ELL. Click below to hear this. 

I have a visual.

Or, as they often say in the movies, I’ve got eyes on her. These days, that usually means some kind of cool x-ray camera, or an infrared gadget, or a high-tech scope snaked through a heating duct. In this movie–The Tourist, which we talked about yesterday, the “eyes” are good old-fashioned binoculars, because the movie takes place in the 1970s. The haircuts and the flared pant-legs give that much away.

And what is our target doing, as the men in the van watch her? Is she breaking into a bank, drawing a gun, setting a bomb? None of the above. Elle boit son thé, declares the watcher, and this news is so far from the expected that he is asked to repeat it. She’s drinking her tea.

This is where we realize that we are not to take everything we see on the screen at face value. If the screenwriter can inject comedy into what is usually a tense, suspenseful moment, then what else is he going to play with? We are in for a ride.

Note how odd the use of the word visual is, in both languages. It is an adjective, but it is being used as a noun. That’s common in French, if you are using it to save yourself the trouble of repeating a noun. For example, Tu préfères la voiture rouge ou la bleue? You could answer La rouge, bien sûr! and your reply would be complete, without the need for any additional words. In English, you would have to say The red one, of course!

Today’s phrase is just another example of the same rule. What the detectives are asking is Do you have visual confirmation that you are looking at the right person, and can you tell me what she is doing? But who has time for all that, when you are in the spy business?

In my next post, another phrase from The Tourist!

Alternate link to audio file: jai-un-visuel


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