status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage
The English language is liberally peppered with foreign words; most especially, and unsurprisingly given the historical and geographical proximity of our countries, French ones. So even the most linguistically challenged amongst us can lay claim to speaking at least a little Fronsay.
But can we really?
For although there is no doubt that ‘déjà vu’ (lit: already seen), soirée (lit: evening), rendez-vous (lit: go to) and maître d’ (lit: master of) to name but a few, have undoubtedly been plucked from the language of Molière, Dumas and Saint-Exupéry, use them in the same way over La Manche, and you may find the Entente-Cordiale tested to its limits by incomprehension.
Déjà vu in France tends to mean exactly what it says: “Do you want to go and see The King’s Speech at the cinema? Non merci, je l’ai déjà vu.” Rarely a spine-tingling, vaguely supernatural experience to be had, despite being coined in 1917 by French psychic Émile Boirac for just that purpose.
In France, la soirée is simply the time spent between getting back from work and going to bed. And you may pass that time exactly as you please: watch TV, have a dinner party, play chess, or stand naked on your balcony juggling ripe Camembert. Enjoy.
Rendez-vous in French is only ever used as a noun. One can make a rendez-vous, have a rendez-vous or forget to go to a rendez-vous. One most certainly cannot ring someone up and say “Hey! How do you fancy rendezvous-ing sometime tomorrow afternoon?”. C’est un big non non.
Maître d’ is an exceptionally strange term. Primarily because it would be correct if it wasn’t that we appear to have wilfully disregarded one word: hôtel. Thus we have demoted the Master of bookings and reservations, of greeting and seating diners and of waiting staff quality control, to a Master of… apostrophes?
In some sad cases, a child’s linguistic ability is compromised yet further by parents who rejoice in the corruption of fertile minds. I toddled happily off to school with a rich foreign language vocabulary; Yves Saint Martin – the house martin, courants noirs – blackcurrants, idées au-dessus de sa gare – ideas above his station and wass geher fer nicht? – what’s going on?; all of which mean absolutely nada, and made me look like a dummkopf in front of the entire class. Yes I shall be suing for hurt feelings and kaput dreams.
But the mangling of language is a two way street.
Take the word “feeling”, for example. It’s a fairly straightforward in English: (v) I’m feeling hungry/tired/on top of the world. (n) I have hurt his feelings, (adj) how unfeeling of me… Whereas, in France “avoir du feeling” would indicate that there is a good vibe, or that two or more people have connected in some emotional way.
“Footing” is jogging in France and Spain, “brushing” is a blow dry (blow DRY, boys, don’t get confused now), “parking” is a carpark and “camping” a camp-site. Indeed, -ing has proved a popular addition to words all over the world; during the Spanish Gran Hermano (Big Brother) the term “edredoning” was coined. An “edredon” is a duvet, making “edredoning” the televised partaking in sexual activity underneath one by the housemates. Que clase!
Last but not least is the word “pudding”. I have been asked for the recipe for “pudding” in Spain, France and Italy, but I know not what it be. Because in the UK, pudding is a broad term for dessert. For said dessert, we can serve up bread and butter pudding, treacle pudding, suet pudding, Christmas pudding, plum pudding, rice pudding, semolina pudding, roly-poly pudding or Queen of puddings. But just plain pudding? Sorry, I just haven’t a clue.
I leave you with the now immortal, tongue-in-cheek question once put to me by a six-year old French boy,
“SV, why do les Anglais call urine, wee-wee? Shouldn’t they really have called it yes-yes?”
This is Status Viatoris, hoping that her readers write in with yet more examples of mangled translations, in Northamptonshire!