Maîtres mots

  • Il y a longtemps que notre pays est beau mais rude.

       --Newspaper editor Olivier Séguret, 25 January 2012

    The USA are entirely the creation of the accursed race, the French.

       --Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), writing to Nancy Mitford, 22 May 1957

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French Freedom of Speech

Today the cheminots are:

  • "À nous de vous faire préférer le train!"
    "Voyager autrement"
    "Avec le SNCF, tout est possible"
      --Former ad slogans of the SNCF (French national trains), each in turn quickly dropped

Fun French words

  • ouistiti

    (literally: marmoset)
    Etymology: onomatopoeia from the sound a marmoset makes. Actual meaning: this is what you say in France when you want people to smile for the camera.

    Selon une étude réalisée par le fabricant d’appareils photo Nikon, le « ouistiti » utilisé en France au moment de se faire prendre en photo est le petit mot le plus efficace pour s’assurer un joli sourire.

Who's en colère today?

  • Private sector

    First strike in 43 years at an aeronautics company in Toulouse, Latécoère

    Public sector

    The SNCF (toujours eux), regional train employees in the Lyons area guaranteeing unpleasant travel from the 17th-21st December
    Also yet another strike by Sud-Rail, a particularly truculent SNCF union in the south of France, this time five days in January: 6,7, 21, 22 and 23. "We have no choice." Right.

    Marseilles trams on strike until February

Go back to school in Paris!

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Entertaining post. Merci.

What I find hilariously ironic is that the French don't even have a word for "rude". The best they can do is say that someone is bad at being polite!!!

Was linked over to this from David Lebovitz. Interesting! I remember asking my "French sister" way back when how to say "warm". She said "chaud". Wait, what? I thought that was "hot". How do you say "hot"? The answer--"tres chaud". How's that for precise?

Ha ha! That's another example. People can never judge their own language correctly, of course. It's like being totally rational about your own baby.

People usually believe that THEIR language is the most precise. You can't tell anything better than in your mother language

The examples of imprecision you give are just the fruit of your incomplete knowledge of the french language: you are probably trying to make literal translations from Engligh, which is not good enough to conclude the french version would be imprecise since it would probably be completely different in the choice of words and the overall structure of the sentence. A very simple thing to explain the higher precision of french language over SOME of the other languages (not over German for example)is that grammar is extensive, and in particular it uses word genders. Word genders alone can bring a huge amount of clarity to complex sentences.

Some deconstruction of your examples:

- Kind versus nice: french can use sarcasm (which is mostly unused by english speakers
- Like versus love: like is "aimer bien"
- "allez tout droit" will NEVER mean "allez à droite" (don't forget the "e"
- "la fille du fermier qui nous vend des légumes": you could write "la fille du fermire, celui qui nous vend des légumes, etc..."

To finish: "rude"is "malpoli", "warm" is "chaud", "hot" can be "brûlant"

Thank you for your letter, which I believe was kindly meant. However, you are not proving your point. Of course you can express the ideas above more precisely. But the language in the examples was still imprecise. This proves that French is not always precise. And yet, all the examples which French people use to show that other languages (specifically English) are imprecise are the same kind of examples as "la fille du fermier...." In other words, they could be expressed more precisely, but they weren't. This does not prove anything. In fact, it is impossible to prove French is more precise than other languages, but French people (as illustrated by your letter) believe it firmly.

"Kind" versus "nice"... Do I understand you to say that the French way to specify two separate concepts with the single word "gentille" is to say "gentille" sarcastically?

It was also interesting to learn that sarcasm is mostly unused by English speakers.

You say "Allez tout droit" will NEVER mean "allez à droite." Well, that's because you are a native speaker of French. You have to admit that "droit" means "right." In exactly the same way, "turn left, right now" will NEVER mean "turn right" to a native or fluent speaker of English.

"Mal poli" has an exact equivalent-- "impolite"-- in English. French doesn't have a word for our word "rude"-- which means deliberately, aggressively impolite. French "mal poli" is less precise.

"Chaud" in French is imprecise-- it can mean either "hot" or "warm" which are more precise concepts. "Brûlant" means "burning" as in "burning hot" --even hotter than hot. English is more precise here.

Sorry, but there is not one iota of proof that French is more precise than English or any other language.

This post was most excellent, but the highlights were JY's letter and Sedulia's response! They require a separate post, I think.

I'd write more, but I'd better go work on my sarcasm!

To prove that French were more precise than other languages, you would have to come up with a bunch of sentences in French and other languages that COULD NOT be translated precisely into other languages, only into French. That's ridiculous on the face of it. Mais bon.

Yes! But I am interested in the idea that word genders make things clearer in complex sentences and would be interested in seeing examples. I've never heard that and was disappointed not to have at least one sample sentence!

Does this make those languages which use noun genders more precise? Nope. Does it make them more efficient? I suppose you could argue that it's more efficient to use fewer words to get your point across, but there are plenty of other examples that could be made of how French is a lot less efficient than English in that respect, even when talking about word genders. If you were in the same room with a person holding a baby girl in one arm and a flower in the other hand and wanted either of those two things, the English would be automatically clear ("Give her to me" versus "Give it to me") whereas the French would necessarily depend on context, non?

I love this thread.

French people often tell you that gender makes a sentence more precise, which can be true in certain cases (only). But just as often, gender makes it more confusing. For example, if you are describing a "star du cinéma" or a "victime" you have to continue to refer to that person as "elle" even if it's Sylvester Stallone. If it's a woman's breast you have to call it "he", but if it's a male mouse, you have to call it "she." (And why "vagin" and "lait" are masculine is a puzzle to me!)

Ok. I'm going to give my opinion.
I feel that the more there is "sujet, verbe,subordinate clause" without the use of "préposition", the more imprecise it becomes. And this is something that I noticed a loooot and a lot of times.
I'm going to give you an example with a sentence
(I wrote this sentence a few hours ago, that's why I thought about it,no link with our subject)

Intellectual level, unconscious barriers from childhood living conditions and social environment are all factors that can lead you to a wrong opinion and a wrong result.

Le niveau intellectuel, les barrières inconscientes liées aux conditions de vie pendant l'enfance et à l'environnement social sont tous des facteurs qui peuvent mener à un résultat et à une opinion erronée.

Do you see what I mean ? And I just took one sentence out of nowhere, but there are a lot of cases where in english you have 2 options
-You can repeat the word, and in this case the sentence loses concision and and becomes unttractive due to the repetitiveness
-You can leave it without elements of connection and it's up to the reader to understand whether it's a link between the subordinate clauses or the collocation of the latter(s where is the S?!)

KIndly though hein ;)

The word ‘droit’ means ‘straight’ and ‘droite’ means right. Yes there is an extra letter ‘e’. If only you knew how to use a dictionary. Please keep your linguistic IGNORANCE to yourself. English is an easy language to learn thanks to its simple grammar. The French language (and Spanish, German…) is much more complex in terms of grammar and its mastering requires a lot of resilience and rigour from French pupils from an early age and which is obviously lacking in the UK. In France the intellect is paramount and all this is supported by the educative system where the study of PHILOSOPHY is compulsory. Probably the reason why French people are not easy to fool and do not need idiots to think for themselves (unlike your pathetic tendency for “French bashing” in the UK)

I'm not British... Your comment speaks for itself.

Vous n'êtes pas très doué en français, vos exemples sont sans valeur car ils sont délibérément abstraits, seriez-vous capable de dire la différence entre grossier, vulgaire, ordurier, insultant, malpoli, gras, graveleux, impoli, inconvenant, malhonnête, irrévérencieux ? Ce sont tous des synonymes, mais chacun est employé dans des circonstances très précises, il existe, pour ceux qui croient qu'il n'y a pas d'équivalent français à "rude" en anglais, 45 synonymes, et le mot grossier possède plusieurs sens selon que l'on parle d'une personne ou d'un objet. N'oubliez pas qu'il est pratiquement impossible de faire des traductions littérales du français vers l'anglais ou toute autre langue, sauf pour les phrases basiques.

What exactly is "abstract" about "il se tue" or "la fille du fermier qui nous vend des légumes"? Seriez-vous capable d'expliquer la différence entre rude, artless, unwrought, unpolished, inelegant, crude, tacky, rustic, churlish, currish, uncivil, gruff, brutal, coarse, tough, brutish, ungraceful, boorish, impolite, discourteous, uncouth, ill-bred, unrefined, rugged, impudent, insolent, impertinent? These words are also "employed in very precise circumstances."

Traduttore tradittore-- ever heard that expression? No translation is perfect, but it's ridiculous to think that French is somehow more untranslatable/sophisticated/clear than any other language. Why on earth would it be? And no one will ever be able to prove that it is.

The more you learn about other languages, the sillier you will see that point of view is. Vous êtes si "doué" en langues étrangères que vous vous permettez de nous donner des leçons?

Interesting! I remember asking my "American sister" way back when how to say "savoir". She said "to know". Wait, what? I thought that was "connaitre". How do you say "connaitre"? The answer--"to know". How's that for precise?

Wow, are you really Jean-Pierre Coffe !? Chapeau !

(Response: English doesn't make any claims to be more precise than every other language in the world. It's French that has to prove something as unprovable as that!)

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Today's quotation

  • In Paris, the purest virtue is the object of the filthiest slander.

      –Honoré Balzac (1799-1850), in Scènes de la vie privée

    À Paris, la vertu la plus pure est l'objet des plus sales calomnies.

Le petit aperçu d'Ailleurs

  • Annual Geminids meteor shower (shooting stars!) coming this weekend, if it's not too cloudy out at night.

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