Friday, March 24, 2006

Ten French Words

I have been fortunate enough to have received about eight years of French lessons from my employer. Even after all this assistance I'm not that marvellous at French, although I can communicate well enough and can understand just about everything. I say fortunate because I had a series of great French teachers who were always sympathetic, amusing, intelligent and never berated me for not doing my homework. They were also all women.

The first was quite attractive, even sultry you might say. I always felt as if she might start seducing me, sat opposite, feet nudging mine under the table. But she never did.

The next teacher was more practical. I don't believe she had a different outfit for every day of the year. But she was very kind and encouraged me to discover French literature. One week she gave me Prevert's 'L'Ecole des Beaux Arts' to learn by heart. It was the first French poem I translated into English and it has since been published in The Dark Horse magazine edited by Gerry Cambridge.

I encountered my last teacher in France. She never spoke to me in English. She was young with long dark hair and quite serious. She did her best to keep me on the straight and narrow, but I had advanced now to the level of fluent conversation and I was able to ask her about all the strange things that people said or did in France. One of the first things I wanted to know was: what is this strange language people are speaking? It doesn't sound at all like the one I've been learning for the last six years.

The french use a lot of colloquial words when they speak. Here are ten words that prove invaluable, but which you will generally not be taught in a formal French lesson. These are not the words to use with your boss, in general.

mec: a guy. Very colloquial. Normally refer to unnamed men as 'homme'.

salut: a way of saying 'bonjour' to your pals. But only to your pals. Don't say 'salut' to someone you've only just met.

dingue: If you say: "c'est dingue" it means that something is crazy or a bit peculiar.

connerie: a stupidity. You can also say 'il est con' which means 'he is stupid'. Made famous by the 'Diner de Cons', a film in which successful businessmen get their kicks from inviting stupid people to dinner. It sounds awful, but it's rather funny, and the 'cons' get their revenge in the end.

merdique: used to describe something that causes you to be metaphorically mired in shit ('merde' is shit). An emmerdeur is someone who causes you to be metaphorically mired in shit. There is currently a succesful play on in Paris called 'L'emmerdeur'.

truc: stuff. Can be used for just about anything.

chouette: literally this is the word for a female owl, but in practice people use it to describe something that makes them feel pleased. This blog for example is 'chouette!' You pronounce it like the soft drink: Schweppes, but ending in 'wet'.

bosser: a colloquial verb meaning 'to work'. As in "j'ai bossé tout le weekend" (I worked all weekend).

sympa: this is used by some young people quite frequently to describe something or someone who they think is nice. "Il est trés sympa" (he is very nice). To my ears it sounds a bit twee, especially when they say someone is "supersympa". I would not like to be considered "supersympa". Sympa is short for sympathique. The Spanish have something very similar: Simpatico.

santé: finally, and importantly, instead of cheers you have to say 'santé!' which means 'to your good health!'.


daringtowrite said...

Thanks for the French lesson. I've stumbled in here a little late in my evening to stop for long, but I'll be back.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Hello Wenda. Thanks for your comment. Did you know that Nairn is a town in Scotland, not far from Inverness? It was a very popular Victorian seaside resort. There is a good book called 'Nairn in Darkness and Light'.

Anonymous said...

merdique not emmerdique et sympathique not sympathetique...

Jonathan Wonham said...

Merci d.