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RECIPE: Annie's Soupe de Poissons

manger ses mots

Hanging out on the line (c) Kristin Espinasse

Socks on stage, taking a bow in front of the curtains. I have always been a sucker for whimsy. I love French architecture and adore the building blocks of language... 

manger ses mots (mahn-zhay-say-moh)

    : to speak inarticulately, to mumble 

Aha! and you thought manger ses mots (to eat one's words) meant to admit you were wrong. Relax! You're thinking of the English idiom. The French one has a very different meaning. Both, however, paint a colorful scene in the mind's eye. More expressions imagées in today's column, below.

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

The day I quit believing the lie that I was a bad student I fell in love with the French language. I could now relax and absorb all the lessons floating around me--and all the words, too. Idioms were a new and delightful discovery! Expressions such as revenons à nos moutons and faire du lèche-vitrines took hold of my soul, bubbling up through me in delight and possibility.

Certain colloquialisms were so full of quirky imagery. They took me beyond the classroom--to see and perceive the world around me in a new and light-hearted way. That the French referred to window shopping as "licking windows" (or "window licking"--either way is funny!) taught me they had a wonderful sense of humor and a refreshing down-to-earthness behind their mysterious exteriors. The self-depreciating, humane, and humble side of the French is especially apparent in their turns of phrase.

"Elle a des oursins dans la poche," a French friend whispers, and I'm no longer intimidated by the bombshell at the party; instead I'm amused by the new saying I've just learned ("to have sea urchins in one's pocket" = to be a cheapskate). That woman may be a knock-out... but it turns out she's a cheapskate! Tee-hee! The two images are funny (and heartening) when joined together.

Though I still put the French high up on a pedestal, I can now pose my ladder beside it and climb up to reach their outstretched hands, joining them in this language tango. "Etre aux petits oignons?they say, spinning me round and round. "Don't be fooled. We're not perfect! We're just as goofy and clumsy as the rest of the world. We don't take ourselves as seriously as you might think!"

As I fell in love with the French language, getting cozy with the lingo, a funny thing happened: I developed a new appreciation for l'anglais. Suddenly, all the English idioms that once flew off the tip of my tongue--now projected themselves across the technicolor screen of my mind. How colorful English was, too! I'd never quite seen it this way before!

Having developed a theory that the French have a word for everything, and that their expressions are the liveliest, I've come to discover that some idioms are much more interesting in English than in French. Here are just a few examples, you can add your own in the comments box which follows:

Between you and me and the gatepost - There's something adorable about this English expression--yet it translates to hum-drum boring in French: soit dit entre nous = just between us. (You mean that's it? Don't they have a more charming match for this one? At the very least, can't we have a word-for-word equivalent: C'est entre toi et moi et le montant de porte?)

Kiss and Fly (Name of airport drop off zone)
I was taking family to the airport when I noticed the sign above the temporary parking curb. "Kiss and Fly"--how delightful! ...And what a let down to discover the French translation (noted just beneath the sign): Dépose Minute.

To Get One's Knickers in a Twist (To get flustered, agitated)
Personally I don't use this expression (I find the "Keep your hair on!" expression just as funny). Sorry if the "knickers" idiom offends anyone--but you've got to admit that it is one of the more colorful expressions we have in English! Let's see if the French translation does it justice (checking my dictionary now...)

...and the equivalent is (dot-dot-dot) s'emporter. Ba dump bump! To fly off in a rage doesn't quite cut it. Although "to get into a tizzy" is kind of funny! How about we use that one?

*    *    *

Your turn to share your favorite English expressions--the more colorful the better. Are some expressions funnier in English--or, if we search deeply enough, can we find a just-as-humorous French equivalent?


French Vocabulary

revenons à nos moutons = let's get back to the topic
faire du lèche-vitrines = to go window shopping
être aux petits oignons = to be perfect
l'anglais = english    

Hats in St. Tropez (c) Kristin Espinasse
Chapeau! or hats off to you for working on your French a little each day. Please share today's post with a friend who might enjoy the same.

Kristi and Mr Farjon (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse
Photo from 2008. With Mr Farjon, "The Plant Whisperer". 

With an approach that is as charming as it is practical, Espinasse shares her story through the everyday French words and phrases that never seem to make it to American classrooms. Book blurb by Simon and Schuster

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety