Wednesday, November 30, 2005

fun with foreign languages

  • the French term for a common-law spouse (of any gender) is concubin(e). It's on government forms and everything. I'm determined to shack up with someone just so I can say I lived in Europe with my French concubine.
  • note to self: un baiser is a kiss; baiser--without the article--is to fuck. A subtle, yet important distinction.
  • I buy a lot of grated emmenthal to make tortillas (I'll make do without Mexican beer, but I can't live without vegetarian fajitas); the packages are all labeled fromage râpée. Every time I see it my brain insists on translating it as RAPED CHEESE, which kinda puts me off my food.
  • the word for "to bother (someone)" is déranger. I get a kick out of asking people if they're deranged.
  • reason 567861567867357 why I'm thankful I'm a native English speaker: gender. I've been studying this language for, well, 8 years now, and I still can't abide how rigidly gendered it is. Not that English isn't sexist, linguistically (yes, I'm one of those embarrassing feminists who like to spell it "womyn"), but technically it's a creole, so there's more flexibility and room for improvisation. The country that gave us Simone freaking de Beauvoir doesn't have an equivalent to Ms. (as far as I've seen). All my mail from the bank comes addressed to Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle. The gender of nouns is of course completely arbritrary ("pants" are feminine and "skirt" is masculine), but don't get me started on personal pronouns and possessives. There's no gender-neutral "they". No wonder French feminists invented l'ecriture feminine, they're so relentessly erased by their own language. You could have a room full of 25 women, and as soon as they're joined by a man they disappear under the masculine ils, which can refer to either mixed or male-only groups. Drives me crazy. I can't imagine how transgendered folks cope in this language. [/rant]
  • While I'm ranting, I'll mention that I cannot get used to "homo" being acceptable as a polite shorthand for gay people. You see it in newspaper and magazine headlines a lot "Les homos faire quelquechose!" They have gaies and lesbiennes, and while it is useful as a gender-neutral catch-all, it still unnerves me. "Homo" was the slur I grew up hearing; it was the big joke in third grade ("Hey Anne, are you a homo?" "What? Ew, no way!" "What, you're not a homo sapien?" There's 9 year old humor for you.)
  • They make up for it though, with jouissance, a beautiful word with no exact English equivalent, but basically means female orgasm. I think I learned it from Cixous, back in Feminist Crit.
  • there's a lesbian-rights organization called LesBienNés, which literally translates as "the well-born" or "born good". I totally wish it worked in English.
  • Also, my name sounds a lot more elegant in French than with my nasally Midwestern twang.
  • the cuss word of choice, especially here at the internet/video game shop, is "putain!", which literally means "whore" but, like "sucks" and "blows" in English, seems to have lost its original implications.
  • I fucking hate reflexive verbs.
  • But I like how they translated "The Sorting Hat": le choixpeau magique, combining the words "to choose", choisir, and "hat", chapeau.

Apropos of nothing, I can't decide where to spend my 2-week Christmas vacation, going around the UK or making a tour of the Mediterranean (damn that Libran sun sign!). One of the more pleasant problems I've had, to be sure, but any input/advice is welcome.


At 1:08 PM, Blogger FemiKnitMafia said...

Mediterranean! If you go now, it'll be cheaper to get there from France. If you wait, you may have to pay a steep flight fee from the U.S. sometime in the future. And US-UK flights are pretty cheap. Then again, I'm making a lot of assumptions here.

Been meaning to ask you -- have you heard of Les Nubians? My BFF copied one of their CDs for me. They're hot! They're Parisian, and probably play around France, I'd be wicked jealous (in a good way) if you saw them. Might be a good venue for girl cruisin'. Site -

At 8:08 PM, Blogger nicotinefreegirl said...

Go UK! To the Peak District!

At 12:59 PM, Anonymous roro said...

"LesBienNés" and the "choixpeau magique" are now my two favourite French terms. In all my years of French, I never really mastered the "play on words". I used to think it was because the French were above using their language for punning purposes, but now I see that I must not have been paying enough attention. I mean, "choixpeau magique" - that's effing BRILLIANT.

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Hush said...

UK or the Med? Well, it depends whether you want to be freezing cold and wet (UK) or nice and warm (the Med). Saying that, the major cities here are quite nice at this time of year, despite the bad weather. I'm a Libra too, so know that the decision is a tough one ;-)

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Winter said...

There are some beautiful places here in the UK, but it is rather wet and cold! Let us know if you decide in favour of the UK though.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Andygrrl said...

FemiKnit: I've heard the name Les Nubians, but I'd never actually heard them. Thanks for the link!


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