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gribouiller

Piazzacat_5gribouiller (gree-booy-ay) verb
  to scribble, scrawl; to doodle

Citation du Jour:
L'écriture est la peinture de la voix.
Writing is the painting of the voice.

            --Voltaire

A Day in a French Life...
Jackie is lying on the couch, tucked under her couette* and watching "1, rue Sesame"* on channel 5. Her fièvre* has gone down, but now her stomach aches. I have set a plastic seau* next to her, just in case, and am presently seated beside her, trying to write in a pocket journal.

"Why don't any of the pens in this house work?" I say, shaking a ballpoint back and forth before grinding the nib into the paper again.

"Wait, mommy," my 8-year-old says as I get up, about to storm across the salon* to the vase where I stash misplaced stylos.* Jackie sits up in her makeshift bed and suggests this to me:

"Pour faire marcher un stylo--to get a pen to work...
il faut retourner la chaussure de ton pied--turn over the shoe on your foot,
et gribouiller sur la semelle!--and scribble on the sole!"

Her tip takes me back to the fifth grade, to Mr. Allison's class, where I used to kick up my heel and trace the deep grided swirls and zigzags of the rubber sole beneath (when I wasn't penning in the initials "DP"--in between hearts--on the flat spaces). I didn't scribble to get my pen to flow properly, but I sometimes used the nib to pry out a piece of chewing gum.

My husband walks into the room and I snap out of my reverie. "Did you ever use to doodle--you know, draw--on the sole of your shoes?" I ask, lifting my knee and pointing to my foot.

"Oui," Jean-Marc says. "It's a French thing."
"It's an American thing too," I confirm. "We, I mean--kids--sometimes doodle on the soles of their shoes."
"That's it," he concurs, "to get the pen to work."
"No," I explain, "we doodle... for doodling's sake."
"Oh, I haven't heard of that," my husband says.

Frustrated, I turn to our daughter, who is fully absorbed in the Cookie Monster:
"Where did you learn to write on your shoe?" I ask, hoping to shed light on this custom, French or English.
"From my teacher," she replies. "He does it to get his pen to work."

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References: la couette (f) = comforter, duvet; rue Seseme = Sesame Street; la fièvre (f) = fever; le seau (m) = bucket; le salon (m) = living room; le stylo (m) = pen

Listen: hear my son, Max, pronounce the word 'gribouiller': Download gribouiller2.wav

Terms & Expressions:
le gribouille = a rash fool
le gribouillage = scrawl, scribble; doodling
le gribouilleur, euse = scribbler (pejorative term for writer)

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Verb conjugation: je gribouille, tu gribouilles, il/elle gribouille, nous gribouillons, vous gribouillez, ils/elles gribouillent;  past participle = gribouillé

Books on the French language:

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France
The Ultimate French Review and Practice: Mastering French Grammar for Confident Communication
Mastering French Vocabulary : A Thematic Approach
2000+ Essential French Verbs: Learn the Forms, Master the Tenses, and Speak Fluently!