the yelling reaction

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a certain je ne sais quoi

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I do some English tutoring for a Parisian family with three children, and part of the thing I like about it is that helping them understand the ins and outs of English gives me a look at the true nature of the differences between the two languages, whether rooted in simple differences in grammar or vocabulary or more deeply in thought patterns. I know I’ve found a uniquely French word or phrase when it simply doesn’t translate into (doesn’t exist concisely in) English at all.

One such thing: quoi at the end of a sentence, used for emphasis:

“Bien sûr je ne savais pas ce qu’elle a fait, quoi.” (“Of course, I didn’t know what she was up to, quoi.”)

Quoi translates literally as ‘what’, but used this way it loses that definition and one could almost say that it takes on not another meaning but rather a lack of meaning – it rids itself of bothersome potential for direct translation and achieves a status where its only role is accentuation. Translating quoi in this context is sort of like trying to translate an exclamation point.

Another thing, not complicated, but I think nice, is when one adds moi or toi etc. to the end of a phrase to emphasize that that person is the one doing something. It has a nice ring to it.

“Je n’aime pas trop les coquilles Saint-Jacques, moi.”

My absolute favorite untranslatable Frenchism is this:

“Arrêtes, tu es CHIANT!”

This literally means “Stop it, you’re BORING!” but in English “boring” is rarely said with such accusatory vigor, let alone vim. The French say this when something seems so insipid that it’s infuriating and feel like they need to angrily demand that it be stopped.  Anyone who has ever been to this website should agree that the lack of the word chiant in English could only be described as a lexical gap.

But there are things I miss about les Etats-Unis, such as

1)   a language that allows me to make wildly exaggerative statements

2)   eating like this


3)   this place, and being there with you


More on franglais later. For now it is late and I am going to bed to dream of sugarplums and seeing my dear bffl, visiting me from Valencia, tomorrow night.


Written by bellaheureuse

November 12, 2009 at 12:55 am

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