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Entries from July 2008


Water park

Note: French Word-A-Day will return mid-August. In the meantime, you might enjoy these readers' stories: Funny French-language gaffes, Lavender Tips, and Cultural Misconceptions (awaiting stories on this last topic...).

défiler (day-fee-lay) verb
    to march past, to parade

un défilé (day-fee-lay) noun: 1) procession  2) gorge
    => un défilé de mode = a fashion show

C'est au plus étroit du défilé que la vallée commence.
It is at the narrowest point in the gorge that the valley begins.

Audio File: hear my son, Max, pronounce today's word and proverb: Download defiler.mp3 . Download defiler.wav

At a French water park near Nyons I stand, desperate and uncertain, before a table of women's swimwear....

"I think I can help..." the vendeuse* says, leading me to the end of the Lycra display.
"Oh, no... no. No no, that won't work!" I insist, noticing the itsy bitsy teenie weenie (no bigger than a polka dot!) bikinis.

The saleswoman shakes her head. "No, not those..." she explains. "These." Pointing to the ground, she indicates a basket of briefs. There, into the wicker panier,* I stare at the suggested alternative.

Men's underwear?

"Um, I don't know about that...." Meantime, the clock is ticking and I've promised to hurry back to Jean-Marc and the others who are stalled at the poolside entrance due to the dress code.

"Are you sure this will work?" I note the price of the underwear: 8 euros (or, deal of deals, three for 20).
"Yes," the saleswoman assures me.
"Well then, OK. I'll need four. Vous me faites un prix?*

                                    *     *     *
Moments later I am relaxing in the sun, my trusty one-piece suit covering a cozy, wintertime waist, a copy of George Sand's "Petite Fadette"* in hand. Adjusting my shoulder straps, I sense, out of the corner of my eye, a bit of commotion.... and look over in time to witness a peculiar parade: with as little pomp and circumstance as possible, four blushing males tiptoe out of the co-ed changing room....

"Ce n'est pas possible!" the first in line complains, tugging at the itsy short.
"Règle d'hygiène,"* I giggle, pointing out the water park dress code: "le port du maillot de bain est obligatoire ... le short de bain est interdit.*
"But," Jean-Marc argues, "I don't see what the difference is between the swim trunks that we were wearing and.... and ... THESE!"
(Only, if there was no difference, then why was he complaining so?)

I watch the other three models who, for the awkwardness in their gait, may as well be wearing five-inch heels: there's my brother-in-law (a.k.a; "Uncle Jacques"), my son Max, and his friend Alex. All four bathing beauties are wearing unusually long T-shirts (thanks to some last-minute shirt stretching and tugging) as they try, in vain, to cover up.

After a mad dash to the pool, sans T-shirt, the men mermaids spent most of the afternoon waist deep in water, but for the occasional ride down the slide. Overall, the underwear-suits worked out just fine... there was just one small glitch or, rather, stitch: the suits didn't fare so well on the slide.... it must have been that clingy cotton fabric, which tended to "catch" on the slide walls, so as to not always "follow suit" with the scarlet-faced swimmers.
* END *

One misconception that I had about the French was this: all French men wear Speedos. Ever had a preconceived notion about another culture? Share your stories in the comments box.

la vendeuse
(f) = sales clerk; le panier (m) = basket; vous me faites un prix? = make me an offer? (May I have a discount?) ; La Petite Fadette : used copies available here; la règle (f) d'hygiène = hygiene rule; le port du maillot de bain est obligatoire ... le short de bain est interdit = it is obligatory to wear a swimsuit ... swim shorts (swim trunks) are forbidden (a Speedo-type bathing suit is required)

Instant Immersion French Deluxe
In French products: Caudalie Lip Conditioner hydrates and repairs dry, damaged lips with a powerful blend of antioxidants and nutrients.
Histoire de Melody Nelson Serge Gainsbourg
Lavender Honey Grilling Sauce for a Provençal style BBQ chez vous

In travel accessories: Rucksack Collapsible Back pack napsack. Do you ever bemoan the fact you did not bring an extra bag along on a trip, excursion, outing, flea market etc? bemoan no more! This is the answer.

Cambridge Word Routes Anglais-Français: a bilingual reference book in which words and phrases are organised in topic groups, helping learners to explore related vocabulary in a way that is not
possible in conventional dictionaries.

While errors can be found in every French word edition, such "coquilles" make for a good learning opportunity. Thank you to those who wrote in, correcting this sentence from the "fuseau" story (note the spelling of "censé" and the absence of "de" in the second example):

"Qu'est-ce que je suis sensé de faire avec ça?"
The sentence should read: "Qu'est-ce que je suis censé faire avec ça?"
(What am I supposed to do with this?)

*"une coquille" means typo or misprint (in my case it was a mistake... and not a typo...)

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Lavender Factory is a big term, but then it is often all or nothing around here. Read on in today's story.

fuseau (fooh-zo) noun, masculine
    spindle, bobbin; time zone, time belt

[plural : "fuseaux"]

un fuseau de lavande or un fuseau provençal = lavender wand (hand-weaved lavender flowers... see today's story and photo)

Also: un fuseau horaire = time zone

Hear my son, Max, pronounce today's word and related terms: Download fuseau.mp3 . Download fuseau.wav

At a Tuesday night meeting that I attend, the gift recipient looked at me as if I had just presented him with a macramé widgit. There was that split-second hesitation, that... "qu'est-ce que je suis censé faire avec ça?"* befuddlement that the gifted one just cannot hide.

I was afraid of this reaction. After all, there was quite a bit of purple ribbon involved... and delicate flowers. It wasn't exactly a gift for a guy, not even for a French guy. But men have sock drawers, I reasoned, and sock drawers always need freshening.... and so this hand-woven wand (my third, and least dreadful,
attempt at weaving lavender) would at least be useful if not displayable. More importantly, it would be a respectable enough exchange for the gift that he had thoughtfully given me: a plastic two-ounce bottle of holy water from Lourdes (a bottle, I might add, shaped like the Virgin Mary).

"Je... je...." Monsieur with the thick bifocals stuttered, holding the unnamable object up to the light, hesitating with his remerciement.* It being my weakness to nip suffering in the bud--as quickly and painlessly as possible--I almost finished his sentence for him.

This gift exchange took place in my car, after I had picked up my nearsighted (and tongue-tied) passenger -- a retired Frenchman who, I imagined, had had his license revoked at some point, hence my occasional stint as chauffeur.

Seated there, in silence, the fragrant lavender wand suspended in the air between us, I had a change of heart. For a moment, my pride got the best of me and I had a mind to shed light on the situation, to point out one man's privileged position. "Listen here, Giftbuster," I thought to say... "Do you know just WHO I AM? Here, before you, is not some Macramé Missy who spends her days weaving organic matter... No! I, Emphatic I, don't normally have time for this sort of "passe-temps"! In fact, passing time is not my luxury, especially as I am perpetually projecting toward the FUTURE, to the land of crowning glory.

The last few words of the imagined tirade struck me back to reality, and I remembered my own not-so-privileged position. Truth was, I'd weaved the damn "drawer freshener" as an exercise in humility, in an effort to pluck myself from the futile fast track that is vainglory. I'd woven it as a prayer--or prayed it as I wove--intent on tapping into the present moment, the only true eternity.

As a recent pilgrim to Lourdes, where he'd stopped into a cramped souvenirs shop and thoughtfully picked out the two-ounce Virgin, I supposed Monsieur's intentions were the same as mine: we were reckoning with our pasts as best we knew how, there gathered together with the others, each Tuesday night. Of little importance were the light-weight, somewhat looney gifts: the key seemed to be in thinking of the other, for once, instead of the high-falutin' futuristic Me.

*     *     *
Have you ever received a gift that left you tongue-tied? What was it and who gave it to you? Share your story in the comments box.

And, speaking of the new comments box, visit these links for:

1. Hilarious reader stories about French language faux-pas & mix-ups:

2. Fantastic tips, also by readers, on how to use lavender:
qu'est-ce que je suis censé faire avec ça? = what am I supposed to do with this?

The Ultimate French Review and Practice: Mastering French Grammar for Confident Communication

Un fuseau de lavande: Consisting of only lavender and ribbon, these unique fragrance wands are handmade in Provence and create an intriguing way to infuse your closets and drawers with a touch of freshness. (Note: includes one sea-blue wand)

More lavender wands, choose your color, here:

In French film: Earrings of Madame De (with Paul Azäis, Madeleine Barbulee, Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, Jean Debucourt )

In French music: The Chorus (Les Choristes) : soundtrack

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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In Gigondas (Vaucluse): sidling up to the bar for a cool summer drink.

arrosoir (ah-ro-zwar) noun, masculine
    : watering can

Example sentence: Hear it in French:  Download arrosoir.mp3 .Download arrosoir.wav
Un arrosoir n'est pas un tuyau.
A watering can is not a hose.
(More, in today's story....)

*     *     *
Michel Thomas Speak French For Beginners: 10-CD Program

Wheezing, gasping, and sawing were three horrific sounds playing at our neighborhood block party after one of the revelers swallowed a garden hose.

...or so it seemed. Information regarding the accident was sketchy... that is, sketchy to this English speaker who pieced together the French worded details of the drama.

Wheeze! Gasp! Saw!... Wheeze! Gasp! Saw!... the rescue team (three local grape farmers) worked diligently to save the victim from suffocation.

"What happened?" I asked, lost (linguistically) amid the commotion.
"He was playing with the arrosoir...." my next-door neighbor explained.

On hearing the French word "arrosoir," my mind presented a picture of a garden hose. Just then, I heard the victim (a child?) gasp again.... When the rescuers asked us to stand back, my knees grew weak and I felt the need to hang on to something. So I threw my arm around my neighbor.
"It'll be okay..." I explained.
"Yes," she assured me, he would.

As I could not bear to watch the resuscitation, my mind's eye proceeded to paint the unfortunate scene -- based on an iffy translation of a few key words: I saw the victim. I saw the "arrosoir". In my French-processing Anglophone brain, one plus one equalled "victim choking on garden hose". Unfathomable was how that chilling, sawing sound figured into the equation. Why on earth were the rescuers using a sharp-toothed scie* to free the victim's blocked respiratory? Near faint at the thought, a certain slew of words had the effect of smelling salts and I perked right up.

"That dog is always getting into mischief!" one of the women remarked.

Mischief? Dog? Turning now to the drama, I saw three men encircling the furry victim. I noticed the animal's tail wagging slowly, like the pendulum of a clock. How much longer could it survive without air? And where was that "hose" it had supposedly swallowed? With the men kneeling in a circle around the animal, all I could see was the dog's hopeful tail....

Suddenly, the sawing sound stopped...

Next, the huddle of men opened up. And, slowly, like the first few drops of rain hitting the roof of a tin shed only to gain momentum ... the hush of silence was replaced by storm of laughter. There in the spotlight stood the mutt, tail wagging vigorously now....

And what a sight! From the looks of things it was clear that it was not the dog that had swallowed the arrosoir, but the arrosoir had swallowed the dog!

Watering can The mischievous mutt had stuck its nose inside the slim-necked watering can (arrosoir!) and, once all the way in, couldn't pull its head out! Now that the rescuers had safely removed the base of the watering can (all that sawing), the dog could breathe freely, never mind the unusual "collar" around its neck, which
resembled one of those cones that veterinarians attach to prevent a dog from scratching its wounds. This "cone", being French, was rather avant-garde -- what with a handle on one side and an upside down spout on the other.

Newly adorned myself (wearing the latest French word on my tongue), I stood there, much like the dog, having broken through another baffling (language) barrier. Only, this time, the laughter was directed at the other guy.

                                      *     *     *
Share your story: What is the last French word that you misunderstood or misinterpreted? What were the circumstances? Write your answer in the comments box.

PS: the photo of the watering can is from one of Jules's (my mom) still life compositions - and not the actual watering can from today's story!

une scie (f) = saw


1926 Paris Letter Gift Wrap Decoupage paper, vintage look poster or print
In French music: Putumayo Presents: Paris
In French film: Persepolis
Read Paris Match magazine, in French
French face cream: La Roche-Posay Anthelios SX SPF 15 with Mexoryl SX

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Aunt Marie-Françoise finishing up another lavender "bottle".

(tres-ay) verb
  1. to plait, to braid; to twist
  2. to weave, wreathe (basket, garland)

synonyms: natter (to plait, braid), entrelacer (to interlace, intertwine)

Tressons, tressons ces fleurs, hâtons-nous, jeune amie, Les songes et les fleurs demain ne seront plus! Let us weave, let us weave these flowers, let us hurry, young friend, for the dreams and the flowers will be gone tomorrow. --from the book "Irlande: Poésies des Bardes" by D. O'Sullivan

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

"The time to pick the lavender is now, while it is fresh," Marie-Françoise explains, as I follow her over to the scented allée* where purple flowers mingle with rosemary in one long row, like juilletistes* motoring toward the sea.

"We'll take a poignée* from the very bottom of the won't even know they're missing!" Following Marie-Françoise's example, I begin snapping up stems from the base of the lavender buissons* which line our driveway. Jean-Marc's aunt has a tour de main* for herb gathering and before long she has collected enough spiked flowers for my lavender braiding lesson. I hand over the half-dozen stems that I've collected and our bouquet is now 34 flowers strong. Marie-Françoise tosses one purple beauty out. "Eh, oui!* she says, noting my confusion. "We'll need an odd number!"

It will soon be no secret how the French tressent* lavender. First, we pluck off the excess foliage along the tiges.* Next, I watch as Marie-Françoise ties a satin ribbon around the neck of the bouquet, just beneath the flower base. Wondering how I might help out, I reach over and put my finger on the taut satin, just in time for Marie-Françoise to knot the ribbon there. Next, she turns the bouquet upside down....

I have only ever weaved beads through my hair, as a child in Arizona, in turquoise, coral, and silver -- colors that inspired the native Indians. I liked the coral red of Sedona, the blue of Navajo turquoise jewelry, and, of course, the silver in that lining along an eastern cloud that would lead me to France. I had
not yet considered lavender and the fields of Provence, didn't yet know that one flower's essence would match my very own. Meanwhile France was budding within me, there in a mobile home park along the edge of the Mojave.

Near the Drôme, far from the desert, Marie-Françoise tells me that what we have here is "lavandin". But lavandin smells just as good as lavender, so good that trapping its essence is our enterprise of the hour.

Marie-Françoise explains that she is about to create "une bouteille de lavande"*--which, mind you, isn't a bouteille at all, but bottle shaped. "More like a jug or 'amphore',*" my aunt-in-law admits.

She will make the "bottle" of lavender by weaving satin ribbon through the stem "bars" of the "cage" that she has formed from the lavender tiges (the stems having been bent, one by one, back over the bundle of flowers, interning the lavender like so many sweet-scented prisoners).

Lavender-bottle Fishing out the longest ribbon, pulling it to the top of the cage, Marie-Françoise begins to weave. As she passes the ribbon through the lavender bars or "spokes" she explains that hand-woven lavender bottles have been used from time immemorial to freshen drawers and armoires. Placing a bundle of lavender in a tiroir* or closet will keep hungry moths and insects at bay. The making of these Provençal pest busters is a tradition chez les soeurs* Espinasse who get together and weave up a lavender storm each summer. "They make great gifts!" my aunt suggests, adding that the woven "bottles" were traditionally given during les fiançailles.*

BouteilledelavandeI notice the relaxed expression on my aunt's face as she weaves. The line of her mouth reflects her smiling eyes: soft, content, free--unlike those sweet-scented prisoners behind the lavender bars.

*     *     *

How do you use lavender? Do you cook with it? Clean with it? Craft with it? Cure with it? Why not chat a bit more about lavender in the comments box, below?

References: une allée (f) = driveway; le (la) juilletiste (mf) = one who takes a vacation in July; une poignée (f) = handful; le buisson (m) = bush; le tour (m) de main = the knack for something; eh, oui = that's right; la belle-mère (f) = mother-in-law; une aubergine (f) = eggplant; la marmite (f) = cooking pot; la saveur (f) = flavor; tressent (tresser) = to weave; la tige (f) = stem; la bouteille (f) de lavande = lavender bottle; une amphore (f) = ancient jar used to store oil or wine; le tiroir (m) = drawer; chez les soeurs (f) Espinasse = with the Espinasse sisters; les fiançailles (fpl) = engagement, betrothal

If you enjoy French Word-A-Day, please take a moment to find out how you can contribute. Thank you for your support!

:: Audio File ::
French pronunciation: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and quote:
Tressons, tressons ces fleurs, hâtons-nous, jeune amie, Les songes et les fleurs demain ne seront plus!MP3 file: Download Tresser.mp3
Wave file: Download Tresser.wav

Lavender_crafts Lavender: Practical Inspirations for Natural Gifts, Country Crafts and Decorative Displays. "Lavender bottles" are mentioned in the index of this book...

Terms & Expressions:
  tresser des couronnes à quelqu'un = to praise, flatter someone
  tresser un panier = to weave a basket
  tressé = having interlaced fibers

More, in shopping:
Growing & Using Lavender: Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin
Method Hand Wash, French Lavender 
In French music: Bleu lavande by Line Renaud

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

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Teasel - cardere (c) Kristin Espinasse
Cardère and Salicaire near Montmirail -- not far from the town of Vacqueyras.

trouver (troo-vay) verb
    : to find

Je ne cherche pas. Je trouve.
I do not seek. I find.
--Pablo Picasso

Never miss a word: get yourself a French Word Widget ... or sign up to the RSS feed.

Audio File: listen to my son, Max, pronounce today's word. Also, hear the verb's conjugation -- followed by the above quote: Download trouver.mp3 . Download trouver.wav

Verb conjugation:
je trouve, tu trouves, il/elle trouve, nous trouvons, vous trouvez, ils/elles trouvent (trouvé)

Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French

As if by coincidence, prize-worthy plants are popping up all over the French countryside... ever since I began botanical lessons with an herbalist Don Juan.* How is it that the very plants that we are studying are suddenly sporting themselves just outside my front door, there, where they've never grown before?

Or have they?

Knee-deep in a scratchy field of shrubs and weeds I wonder: how could I have ever missed these lavender beauties? Cardère, or "wild teasel", scatters itself not far from the roadside, its "arms" stretched high, its body, lithe. I watch the prickly plant dance in the gentle breeze, nature's botanical ballet free to anyone with eyes to see.

Driving toward Nyons, I glance out the car window. "Acanthus mollis"* waves excitedly. "You-hoo! Here we are... been here all along, just beyond the tip of your nose!" Not one to be snubbed, the plants forgivingly salute me. Surely those flowers were there one year ago? Why didn't I see them (by the dozen!) then?

It is one thing to ignore a plant, quite another to trample over it, dismissively. "They're called "Centaurée du Solstice" Mr. Farjon says, handing me a bunch of Yellow Starthistle* that he's just gathered from the vine field. He points to the flower's sharp "needles," shares a story from his childhood, and adds, as he often does, that while the plant may be "bon à rien" ("good for nothing"... or, in this case, not useful for medical purposes), yet... "ça mérite votre attention". All plants seem to merit our attention, according to Monsieur Farjon.

Last week, on my way to the town of Orange, I skidded to a stop beside a narrow canal. Tall as a topiary top model, "Salicaire"* towered there... as she (he?) must have, last summer....

Resembling a horticultural hitchhiker, planted there beside the road, she all but thumbed a purplish petal. I thought about picking her up. Instead, I remembered an unwritten adage: if ever she be a sole or rare exemplaire,* leave her there! Still in a daze, I pulled onto the road, leaving the other drivers to admire her, gaze after gaze.

As the countryside files by me, I wonder how much I am missing. How many more prize-worthy plants are invisible to this untrained eye? Might there be a flower-elephant traipsing across the road before me -- only I am as yet unable to see it?

Finally, a favorite quote of Farjon's returns to comfort me: "Je ne cherche pas. Je trouve." I do not need to seek these plants and flowers, the colors and the scents of which make me heady. They'll come and find me when I am good and ready.

*     *     *
What are your favorite plants and flowers? Please list them and, if possible, their French equivalents, in the comments box. P.S.: some of my favorites include hollyhocks, sunflowers, valerian, and -- the latest -- monnaie-du-pape.

an herbal Don Juan
= (read about Monsieur Farjon) ; acanthus mollis = "Bear's Breeches" (plant); Yellow Starthistle (Centaurée du Solstice) = a flower that announces summer (solstice); Salicaire =
Purple-loosestrife ; un exemplaire (m) = example, specimen

Monnaie-du-Pape (seeds for which I just planted this morning!)
A lovely garden detail: Fleur de Lis Hose Guard
A Francophile fryer favorite (toile apron)
Oh-so-French coffee mug
Eiffel Tower Tie Tie

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
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♥ Give the amount of your choice

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Flench Glossary of Baby Talk: toutou, doudou, bidou, bobo...

Toutou (c) Kristin Espinasse
The tourist office employees are animal lovers... or else they're tired of drink requests! Photo taken in the town of Sarrians (Vaucluse). 

toutou (too-too) noun, masculine

    : doggie

Need help with French conjugation? Check out the French verb wheel

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE ... by Kristin Espinasse

I can tell you first-hand that, apart from tourists, the French town of Sarrians caters to rug rats, thieves, and cats.

Rug rats--rather "rug rat-ease"--being our topic for today, we'll skip the cat caper... though it is tempting to paint the scene: that of one "sticky-fingered" foreigner being chased by a minou* and a Maghrébine.

"I told you that kitty wasn't lost," Jean-Marc said, as we rounded a bend and slipped in to the Tourist office, unseen by the Maghrébine. I couldn't help it if that woman's cat was following me... admittedly after all the sweet talk disguised as soliloquy. (For the record, I did not steal the cat.)

Inching our way out of the tourist office, the coast now being clear, I saw the following hand-written sign posted against the municipal door: "Bar à Toutous". Beside the delightful sign, a couple of thirst-quenching quarts of water were thoughtfully set out for the town toutous... which brings us back to today's topic: "Rugrat-ease".

Inspired by the French signage (specifically the wee word "toutou"), I offer you a glossary of French kiddy talk or "langage enfantin": Please feel free to add to this list, using the comments box just below... and thanks in advance!

AUDIO FILE: You can now listen to our son, Max, pronounce the entire list, below:
Download MP3 or Wav file 

Petit Lexique de Langage Enfantin / Glossary of Baby Talk

areu ("areu areu") = goo-goo: faire areu areu = to gurgle
le bibi
(biberon) = baba (bottle)
le bidou = tummy
le bobo = boo-boo (minor injury) le coco (coquille) = egg
le coin-coin = quack-quack (duck)
cui-cui = tweet-tweetfaire cui-cui = to go tweet-tweet
le dada
= horsey (horse)
le dodo (dormir) = beddie-bye (sleep)
le doudou = blankie (blanket, or other security object)
glouglou = gobble-gobble
= upsy-daisy! (small accident)
le joujou (jouet) = toy
le kiki (quéquette) = wee-wee (penis)
le lolo (lait) = milk (also means "boob")
la mama (maman) = mama
la mémé (grandmère) = nana (grandma)
la menotte = little hand
le minou (minet) = cat
le nanan = yummies, sweets, num-nums
le ninin (ninnin) = security object (stuffed animal)
la nounou (la nourrice) = child-minder
le nounours (ours en peluche) = teddy bear
le papa (père) = daddy
le pépé (grand-père) = grandpa
le pipi = wee-wee
le popo (caca) = poo-poo, doo-doo
une quenotte = tooth
une risette = a little smile
    (faire une risette à la gentille dame) = smile for the nice lady
le sent-bon = perfume
la tantine = auntie
la tata (tante) = aunt
le tonton = uncle
le toutou = dog
le zizi = wee-wee


When we had all 7 golden retrievers (we now have just Mama Breizh and her son, Smokey). Oh, how the puppies loved baby talk! 



Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


Broom or
The ancient walls of Gigondas (Vaucluse) where genêt gilds the countryside.

faner (fa-nay) verb
    : to wither

La gloire soudaine se fane très vite.
Sudden glory quickly withers.

Hear the French word "faner" and today's quote, read by my son, Max: Download faner.mp3 .Download faner.wav

*     *     *

Is it too late to talk about sweet-scented French broom? "Le genêt," as it is called in France, is now withering across the French countryside, but nostalgia for the shrub never fades.

Also: "une fane" is a dead leaf... and... the verb "faner" finds itself before "fanfare" in the dictionary (while one conjugates to "withered," the other boasts a "showy outward appearance").

With French maracas playing in the background (those cicadas do give off such a rhumba-shaking sound), I sit at my desk beside an open window and study "The Perfume of Broom". It is a tender short story written by my francophone aunt. The sweet-scented scenes sweep me back to Marseilles... to the chalky heights that tower over a deep blue sea; in between the two, a delicate yellow flower softens more that the rugged landscape...

"The Perfume of Broom" by Marie-Françoise Vidal
(read this story in French... click here)

Among all of the goodies that nature offers us in spring, a certain magical blooming has a particular importance to me, and each May brings me back to my adolescence...

Back then I was a student in Marseilles. I studied in an exceptional school, exceptional as much for the education as for the magnificent environment. The buildings spread out over the hills which scaled the limestone high massif that dominates the city.

At that time the Bac* took place over a two year period, sanctioned by two successive exams in the month of June. As soon as May approached, the vegetation surrounding our classes woke up, and the sea, close by, attracted the less studious. But the most conscientious among us knew that the dates for the dreaded exams approached... and so we threw ourselves into the non-stop revisions, even during recreation and in between classes.

In little groups, we looked for the pénombre* to continue working.... Seated at the foot of the towering broom that had just covered itself with golden flowers, we formed little industrious conclaves.

Perched over our books and our cahiers,* we were intoxicated by the honey-like perfume that the flowers emitted; it made us forget the stress and transformed us into little worker bees.

I received my Bac, and my life unfolded... but each year I am rejuvenated by the arrival of these flowers. I love the genêt* that, here, splashes the thickets, gushing up between somber berries and forming great joyous families along the chemins* that surround the vineyard parcels. I gather great brassées* which I bring back to the house in order to enjoy their sunny "fireworks" and especially for the perfume of my youth. And I wish "bonne chance"* to the young people who, in turn, prepare their own exams.

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If you enjoyed Marie-Françoise's story, why not let her know? Thanks for leaving her a message in the comments box at the very end of this post. You might tell Marie-Françoise a bit about yourself as well :-) P.S.: If any of the messages look odd, that may be due to website spam, which I'll clear out of the box as soon as I discover it...

le bac
(baccalauréat) (m) = a French diploma ; la pénombre (f) = half-light, dusk; le cahier (m) = notebook; le genêt (m) = broom; le chemin (m) = (country) road; une brassée (f) = armful; la bonne chance (f) = good luck

Excellent French/English dictionary
Provence French Linen Water - in Summer Jasmine
Summer Black French Truffles
In French hair care: Rene Furterer Complexe 5
In Music: pre-order Carla Bruni's "Comme Si de Rien N'était"

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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What do you do when a plant savant gives you two dozen botanical cuttings? You speed home from the village, dart out to the clothesline, and grab all the clothespins you can get, run back into the kitchen and scour the armoire for glasses (champagne flutes, wine goblets, old jam jars...)... then you carefully label each and every species (thanks to the handwritten notes that one venerable Frenchman carefully penned).

lexique (lexeek) noun, masculine

    : glossary

Monsieur Farjon talks about plants as some talk about humans. They have their relations, c'est-à-dire,* they have families, "ancestors". They reproduce. They are "born": some as bâtards, others with silver spoons in their botanical bouches.* Speaking of mouths, they even have body parts, such as "armpits" (aisselles), from which thirsty French birds drink à la "cabaret des oiseaux".*

They have their faults and their moods, good and bad. Ornery they are, as witnessed by their spiky "skin" or prickly "peau". Their many "fingers" cling to you like children... when they aren't altogether sticking their tongues out, teasingly. And they are liable to spit as you mosey on by, minding your own onions, in some abandoned French village.... (Just ask my own mom, who stood beside me, stunned, as one alien-like concombre d'âne* squirted at us in the ancient hilltop village of Le Cannet des Maures.)

Plants teach us, scold us, and reward us. Some are smelly, some sweet, but they all merit more than a passing glance and to most, Farjon would argue, we owe a sincere reconnaissance* ... or one final salute -- as more and more of these medieval plants are disappearing, concrete pushing up in their place. Gone are the flocks and animals that, in their own humble way, nourished these "old folks": these sometime irascible, often irresistible botanicals of prehistoric and modern Provence.

It is another kind of green that interests people these days, Farjon laments. Money and modernity would seem to have taken the limelight off of botanical antiquity. But that won't stop one "plant whisperer" from combing the countryside, to render a daily homage to his heroic heirlooms.

                                                         *     *     *

Here is the most recent batch of botanical cuttings that Monsieur Farjon brought by in a mid-summer medley. There are stories, funny and sad, behind each and every one. I hope to share some of them with you, as Monsieur Farjon has with me so as to keep their French histories alive, for posterity.

                                                        *     *     *

Note: The plants are listed in French, sometimes in Latin, in English and, here and there in Provençal (as indicated by parenthesis). In this glossary, I have included some undefined terms which I will try to clean up petit à petit.

= that is to say; la bouche (f) = mouth; le cabaret des oiseaux = bird's inn (a cabaret, apart from a place to watch dancing, is a watering hole); concombre d'âne (see glossary, below); la reconnaissance (f) = gratitude, recognition

                                 Petit Lexique Botanique / Botanical Glossary

Armoise camphrée : Artemisia abrotanum : Southernwood

Asperge Sauvage : Asaparagus acutifolius: ("lou roumanieu counieu" or "rabbit's rosemary")

Bardane : Great burdock : Arctium lappa : "herbe aux teigneux"

Cardère : Dipsacus fullonum : Wild teasel : "cabaret des oiseaux"

Chicorée Sauvage : Cichorium intybus : Root chicory: (Cicoréia)

Clématite : Clematis vitalba : "Old Man's Beard"

Concombre d'Ane : Ecballium elaterium : Squirting cucumber; momordique

Euphorbe petit cyprès : Cypress spurge : "Graveyard weed" : (lanchousclo veneneuse)

Euphorbe des bois : Euphorbia characias : Wood spurge

Gaillet : Galium verum : Yellow bedstraw : "Frigg's grass"

Hiéble: Sambucus ebulus : European Dwarf Elder and Walewort : "Blind man's herb"

Laurier Tin : Viburnum tinus : (Provençal : faveloun / pato molo / lausié flouri)

Onagre : Oenothera biennis : Evening primrose : Onagraire : "herbe aux ânes", "jambon des jardinières"

Prêle : Equisetum : "Queue de cheval" - horse tail

Rue fétide : Ruta gravéoleus : Common rue :"herbe à la belle fille"

Salsepareille : Smilax aspera: Prickly-ivy : salsepareille

Bibliography by Monsieur Farjon
While many of these books (in French) can be found at Amazon, most are rare or a bit pricey. Look for them in your local library.

"Guide familial de la medecine par les plantes" by Dr. Paul Belaiche

"Se soigner par les légumes, les fruits et les céréales" by Docteur Jean Valnet

"Aromathérapie" by Docteur Jean Valnet

"La phytothérapie : Traitement des maladies par les plantes" by Docteur Jean Valnet

"Les Plantes de mon père" by Didier Messegue

"Of People and Plants: The Autobiography of Europe's Most Celebrated Healer" by Maurice Mességué

"C'est la nature qui a raison" by Maurice Mésségué

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


Sunflowers near the town of Jonquières and kids growing faster than tournesols... in today's story.

Today is Joseph-Marie Jacquard's birthday. Read all about this French inventor in "Jacquard's Web: How a Hand-Loom Led to the Birth of the Information Age"

pousser (poo-say) verb
    : to push
    : to grow

Related Terms & Expressions:
  une poussette = a pushchair
  un poussoir = a push-button
  un pousse-café = an after dinner drink ("pushes down" the after-dinner coffee)
  pousser un cri = to utter a cry
  pousser un soupir = to heave a sigh (of relief)

Listen to my son, Max, pronounce the French word "pousser" and to the French terms (above):
Download pousser.mp3 . Download pousser.wav

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Festive & Frenchy~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Eiffel Tower Confetti - get ready to celebrate Bastille Day!

Max returned home from basketball camp having left one item behind: his former voice. Though I'm tempted to root through the camp's Lost-n-Found* pile, grasping for that soft, well-worn voix,* I will have to remember to let go.... and let grow.

"You are growing!" I inform my son, as we stand back-to-back in another match of "C'est Qui La Plus Grande?"*
"You owe me!" Mr. Crackly Voice replies, remembering a bet we placed back when he was nine. Four years ago, I predicted my son would eclipse me, vertically, by the age of twelve. Now, at thirteen, I can still pat him on the head without having to raise my arm sky high.

Max and I settle in at the kitchen table for a late-night snack. After two buttery galettes,* I push away the cookie tin... While some of us are growing upwardly, others of us are growing in other directions, and I'm not talking spiritually or emotionally....

As Max reaches for another cookie, I try distracting myself from their buttery goodness by redirecting my attention to the table's centerpiece. I point to the ripe-red, just-harvested tomatoes: roma, cerise,* and St. Pierre. My son's nod of approval is all the encouragement that this newbie Green Thumb needs to continue planting seeds. Never mind if I messed up on the maïs.* (It seems the French grow corn for chickens, hence the tough kernels. I'll have to either rip out the two knee-high rows or give the harvest to the neighbors, for their poulailler*). Max, as if reading my mind, has another suggestion:

Man.* do you still want chickens?
"Oh, I don't know...."
"Well," Max reasons, "chickens are good for eggs... but bad for the grasse matinée.* "Cocorico!" he crackles, illustrating his point. Once again, I am reminded of my son's adolescence, which includes sleeping in long after the coq's* own voice has been spent. "Cocorico!" he repeats, his crackly-voice sounding from beyond those once chubby cheeks.

I remind myself to let go.... and let grow. That'll be my new mommy mantra from here on out. It is time to say a toast: to a growing son and a growing mom (and now I'm talking spiritually and emotionally). I raise my glass of milk, cookie crumbs floating across the surface like champagne bubbles: "Cocorico!" I sing. "Cocorico!" Max answers, eyes unchanging... sparkling... as they have since before he could speak.

lost and found = objets trouvés; la voix (f) = voice; C'est Qui La Plus Grande? = Who's The Tallest?; la galette (f) = round, flat cake (cookie); la cerise (f) = cherry (tomato); le maïs (m) = corn; le poulailler (m) = henhouse; man (short for "maman") = mom; (faire) la grasse matinée = the sleep in; le coq (m) = rooster

Mere Poulard, traditional butter "galettes", packaged in a colorful tin box

French Verb Conjugation:
je pousse, tu pousses, il/elle pousse, nous poussons, vous poussez, ils/elles poussent  => past participle: poussé

Ceramic Provence Olive design herb mill with French herbs

Jolee's Boutique Paris Stickers : good for notebooks, art boards...

On July 14 1789 a mob of angry Parisians stormed the Bastille and seized the King's military stores. A decade of idealism war murder and carnage followed bringing about the end of feudalism and the rise of equality and a new world order.THE FRENCH REVOLUTION is a definitive feature-length documentary that
encapsulates this heady (and often headless) period in Western civilization.

In gifts for girls: Fleur-de-lis Charm Necklace

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.


In the town of Sault, the last week of June, the lavender fleurettes were too shy to show themselves, so I snapped a photo of these instead.

Order a bottle of Domaine Rouge-Bleu and read what wine enthusiasts are saying about our first vintage.

fleurette (flur-et) noun, feminine
    : floweret

conter fleurette = to say pretty things, to flirt
la crème fleurette = liquid cream
fleurettes du chou-fleur, du brocoli = cauliflower / broccoli sections


                          "Professor Plant"

I watched a skinny-legged spider trot back and forth across Monsieur Farjon's wool hat and wondered, Should I swat it? And would he, if tables were turned? But spider-swatting didn't seem to be Monsieur's style: for one who loves plants must love insects... er, arachnids.

Beneath the Chinese mulberry in my front yard, I sat with the One Who Loves Plants, trying to ignore the light-footed araignée* that ran laps around Monsieur's tweed cap.

Sliding a tray of dates and pecans toward my guest, reaching to refill his cup with cool water, I listened to Farjon talk about the flowers, the plants, and the seeds that he had brought me, and marveled at how each had its own story.

Handing me a leafy stem, Monsieur introduced me to the yellow-budded "pastel des teinturiers,"* and told me how the French once used its green leaves to dye their textiles blue. He talked about the Guerre des Gaules* and I listened to a funny anecdote about Napoleon, who once sniffed: "C'est affreux, ces Gaulois vétus de bleu!"*

Monsieur passed me a branch of paliure,* which he referred to as "l'épine du Christ." I noticed the thorny bits in between the delicate yellow flowers. The innocent-looking branch, I learned, formed the cruel crown that Jesus wore to the cross. I tucked the delicate branch aside; it somehow held more meaning than the "charm" on my necklace.

Had I ever visited the church at Mornas?, Farjon asked, raising another dried flower, one resembling corn on the cob. In ancient times they dipped the épi* in suif* and the lit fleurettes* became a torch. This "Herb of St. Fiacre" can still be found in the town of Mornas, Farjon explained, where the protestant Baron of Adrets* placed stakes at the foot of the cliff and made Catholic prisoners jump to their deaths. When one of the prisoners joked with the Baron "You go first!" The Baron, amused by the prisoner's sense of humor, set him free from impending death.

After several of Farjon's stories, that light-footed spider had fallen to sleep and so tumbled off the side of Monsieur's tweed cap. As for me, I was wide awake and at the edge of my seat. I had never been good at history until, plant by plant, Monsieur brought the subject alive for me.

                                        *     *     *
Psst! : Read The Man Who Planted Trees -- a touching, fictional story of "Elzéard Bouffier", who devoted his entire life to reforesting a desolate portion of Provence, in southern France.

... and why not read it in French?

une araignée (f) = spider; le pastel (m) des teinturiers = woad ; la guerre (f) des gaules = Gallic Wars ; C'est affreux, ces Gaulois vétus de bleu! = Frightful sight, those Gauls dressed in blue; le paliure (m) = paliurus, "Christ's-thorn; un épi (m) = ear (plant), cob; le suif (m) = tallow (from suet) obtained from the fat of cattle and sheep and used to make soap, candles, and lubricants; la fleurette (f) = floweret; Baron des Adrets = François de Beaumont


Un, deux, trois... French numbered dice - and original and inexpensive gift:

Madeline Child Costume

In music: Christine Albert: Paris, Texafrance

The Eight - an "astonishing fantasy-adventure in which a computer expert banished to Algeria by her accounting firm, gets caught up in a search for a legendary chess set once owned by Charlemagne. - Publishers Weekly

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.