Linguistic musings

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The French use a lot of English words in their everyday speak, and the English language is just as rich in using French words. Première, déja vu, début are three common examples with similar meaning in either language.

Now, it wouldn’t be amusing if I didn’t comment on the rest of the commonly used, or misused, misspelled or incorrectly conjugated words or expressions and point out their actual meaning.

Coup de grâce: pronounced “koo duh grass”. Translated, means “mercy blow”, and literally “strike of grace” the latter being what a person would implore upon imminent demise from the King. “Have mercy, your Grace!”, which could be taken literally to either end the suffering or beg for pardon/forgiveness, not unlike a prisoner about to be executed. DO NOT make the mistake, as I have seen way to often, to either write it as “coup de gras” (or grâs), or even pronounce it “koo de grah”. This would just mean that you are striking someone with a piece of lard, or fat, and would merely annoy, disgust or cause a minor loss of dignity.

Double entendre: this is actually grammatically incorrect. The proper term is “double entendu”. Entendre means “to hear”, which, just like in English, can go beyond just the auditory function and imply understanding; “I hear you”. The expression, which in French is spelled properly, indicates a dual meaning, two ways one can interpret a situation and thus cause confusion. In French, when someone says “bien entendu”, they mean that something is evident, “well heard”. I fear, however, that it is too late to correct this one, as it is too engrained in the English speaking culture.

RSVP: this one stands for “Répondez S’il-Vous-Plaît“, literally meaning “please respond” (to an invitation). A common faux pas on invites is to see the host asking the guests to “Please RSVP”, which is as necessary as wearing a belt with suspenders.

Entrée: the literal meaning of that one relates to an “entrance”. In France, menus start with “entrée” (appetizer), then “plat de résistance” (main course), then dessert (same spelling, since the word is actually French) and/or cheese plates. The use of the word “starters” is therefore a more correct application of “entrées”, but if a menu sports both “starters” and “entrées”, consider that a lack of proper culture. Starters/Appetizers with Main Courses= good. But a menu with “entrées” as main course, as we commonly understand it here, leaves a lot of French visitors confused or secretly laughing. Just don’t ask a French person if they want to grab a “bite”… On that note, if wanting to show some linguistic sophistication, if you are the type to pronounce Mexican dishes with a Spanish accent, like in the SNL sketch with Jimmy Smits and the obnoxious whiteys ordering burritos or other, do not invite someone into your home with the French (incorrect) expression “Entrez-vous”, as it means “enter yourself”. Just say “entrez”, while it sounds like a command in English (“enter!”), it is perfectly proper.

Another funny one I remember from the Michael J.Fox movie “Doc Hollywood”. There is a scene in it where he ends his work day and says “Je suis fini”, which is a literally translation of “I am finished/done”, which itself has a double entendu, but in French, to say “je suis fini” only means one thing: that one is toast, fubar, kaput, done in the most negative sense of the word. To be done with a task, in French, you say “I have finished”, which is “j’ai fini”.

Of course, there are many, and the French butcher their own fair share of English, both in meaning or pronunciation. How does any of this tie to the usual content of this blog or site? It’s just a way to communicate that the task of translating Georges Hébert’s work from French into English takes more than just literally translating. It requires choices that revolve around understanding of common training, movement or weight lifting terms, at times needing to create a literal translation seeking synonyms, with the thesaurus, but also seeking a sense of continuity throughout the book. I may choose to revise and change terms in a personal adaptation and revamping of Hébert’s work, depending on what readers respond to.

Such an example is with the slits: forward slit, backwards slit. Should I rename them “split stance” or “staggered stance” “-with a forward lean”, or “-with back extension”? Does it make the movement more sexy, like a slit on a cocktail dress, or is the “clinical” choice better, even if more wordy?



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