Friday, March 31, 2006

Poisson d'avril

Tomorrow, if you are in France, and you aren't careful– you might find a cardboard fish on your back: poisson d'avril! If you aren't thinking it of yourself: Que je suis bête! someone else is and laughing.

The origin of April Fools' Day is not clear with many cultures indulging in
and enjoying making fools of their compatriotes since ancient Rome and the festival of Hilaria (known today as Roman Laughing Day).

The French are generally credited with April Fools' Day because it's
marked on THEIR calendar. Before 1582, the eight-day celebration of the new year culminated on April 1st. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar was introduced and new year's day was moved to January 1st. Those who didn't hear about the date change or stubbornly refused the new calendar were labeled as fools and ridiculed. That explains the date of this holiday.

What about the fish? Some of the explanations I've come across seem a little far-fetched: ...a joke to depict them as 'April Fish' that represented young and naïve fishes that are easily caught on the first day of April; Some believe that the fish is tied to Jesus Christ, who was often represented as a fish in early Christian times. Others say the fish is related to the zodiac sign of Pisces, which is represented by a fish, and falls near April.

Whatever the reason for the fish- if you happen to find one on your back tomorrow
it might be of some consolation to find yourself in the company of the great Napoleon, who earned the Poisson d'Avril monicker when he married Marie-Louise of Austria on April 1, 1810. An unwanted cardboard fish in France is certainly better than waking up the next day in Las Vegas with an unwanted marriage certificate pinned on your back.

So- watch your back on April 1st!

le premier avril = April Fools' Day, also known as All Fools' Day
poisson d'avril = April fool, literally "April fish"

Que je suis bête! = What a fool I am!

Photo: Looking out from inside The Tube (at theDFS Galleria Waikiki shopping mall) a 65,000-gallon, two-story saltwater aquarium you can actually stroll through.

Hawaii, en septembre 2002

Monday, March 27, 2006

Heure d'été and the Learned

How smart the French are!
Whether you mean daylight saving time or summer time they both translate to heure d'été. Even though we in the European Union have already lost our precious hour yesterday (those in the USA hang onto theirs until the first Sunday of April) we have gained the right to start planning our summer vacation today! What a great way to start a Monday, oui?

More of the savant French!
What's on your list of fantastic places to visit in France? Is Urville on it? Because the only way to describe this city and its creator, Gilles Trehin, is fantastique!

savant = literally 'knowing (person), learned, knowledgeable

savoir = to know

Photo: à Séoul, la capitale de la Corée, en octubre 2003

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Is that you?

"As-tu pété?" and really a French speaker isn't asking if your name is Pete.
"Oui, je péte" and no your not telling them, yes you are.

English has been so strongly shaped by French that it's estimated that English speakers who have never studied French already know 15,000 words! Although the American Association of Teachers of French insist that "French is Not a ‘Foreign' Language!", all of you Peters out there should know better instinctively.

Péter is a verb and not welcome to conjugate himself anywhere without risk of embarassment and unpleasant odors until someone answers the Prize Question that Benjamin Franklin suggested to the Royal Academy of Brussels:

"My prize question therefore should be: to discover some Drug, wholesome and not disagreeable, to be mixed with our common food, or sauces, that shall render the natural discharges of Wind from our Bodies not only inoffensive but agreeable as perfumes."

French IS a foreign language even if we have thousands of cognates.
Péter is definitely a faux-ami, but flatulence? A true friend!

péter (émettre un gaz intestinal) vulgaire = to fart

un pet (gaz expulsé) = a fart

une flatulence (gaz, aérophagie) = flatulence

Photo: "Kosmos Rocket" en Allemagne, en
juin 2002

Friday, March 17, 2006


Merci mon Dieu, c'est vendredi!

It's Friday, thank your God. If you are like me, you hop out of bed tossing aside the
warm covers hugging instead the possibilities of a fleeting weekend.

Thank God it's Friday! It's the incantation that brings the work week to a close
before your feet even hit the floor. If you are like me.

Merci mon Dieu, c'est vendredi. Merci mon Dieu, c'est vendredi! It's the singsong refrain
that keeps my feet moving happily from my bedroom door to my office. My feet, tucked beneath my computer desk tap out: Merci! mon dieu! C'est vendredi! drumming out all the mishaps and frustrations of the week as the clock ticks me nearer the weekend.

Oui, le week-end, which the very mention of, brings on dancing feet!

Ça suffit comme ça!

Ça suffit comme ça = enough, now it's quitting time

Photo: Harlem à New York City, en septembre 2005

Monday, March 13, 2006

Concours d'adresse

Game of Skill

Do you know what the following means?

1 - Taille tôt, taille tard, taille toujours en mars

2 - Sème tes pois à la saint-Patrice, tu en auras tout ton caprice

3 - Quand mars se déguise en été, avril prend ses habits fourrés

More importantly, can you translate it into English? If you answered yes and aren't a French citizen or French is not your mother tongue then you've definitely got skills.

If you are game: go to, read the rules and maybe you'll be the historic prize winner of the first Game of the Week, (podcast 35). Hurry, this week's game ends on March 15! Bonne chance.

Et moi? Encore charabia, charabia, charabia!

Photo: Niederwald Denkmal also known as Germania in the background
à Bingen en Allemagne, en mai 2005

Friday, March 10, 2006

Faites de beaux rêves

Sweet Dreams

Not long ago, I awoke from a dream completely astounded. I was speaking French. Fluent French gibberish. This must be how my teachers sometimes hear me mangling French: charabia, charabia, charabia!

Does this dream mean anything? Do I need to do more French homework? Will I never make it past grammaire progressive niveau débutant to grammaire progressive intermédiaire?

M'aider dream dictionary! I look up "French". Apparently, it is a better thing to dream that I am speaking French than to see or eat French fries. What a relief: I am not "overlooking the frivolous and seemingly minute things in life".

le charabia = gibberish, mumbo jumbo, gobbledygook
Faites de beaux rêves = sweet dreams, literally: make beautiful dreams

English synonyms for gibberish that I've never heard in a conversation but nonetheless do exist: eyewash, piffle, twaddle, poppycock. Love to hear what the French equivalents are!

Photo: à Buenos Aires en Argentine, en mai 2004

Monday, March 06, 2006

Je vous présente un moucheron exceptionnel

Illustration Friday's
theme this week is "insecte".

Mon amie, Damsel Fly, has obliged me by supplying her drawing of a special pollinator. It's no ordinary mouche and should not be confused with it's relative, le moustique (known to stephi as "flying moustaches").

Why you should love this fly:

1- Midges have no ability to bite and do not carry any human diseases.
2- Midges are superlative: la plus rapide! They beat their wings over 1000 times per second!
3- Midges are pollinating agents: Bonjour, cocoa tree! They are little chocolate makers!

Vive les moucherons! La joie du chocolat!

un insecte = insect
une mouche = fly
un moucheron = midge fly
un moustique = mosquito
mon amie = an exception to the rule, my friend (fem.)

L'illustration: "Chocobug" depicts a Midge Fly, also known as Forcipomyia
Illustratice: Damsel Fly © 2002

Saturday, March 04, 2006

What a little "beau" can do for you!

One of the very first words I learned in French was the adjective beau.

In English it means a dandy or a male admirer, boyfriend or lover that is usually rich and fashionable. (That's what girls really mean when they say a guy is handsome, isn't it?)

As a French adjective beau is everywhere identifying the beautiful: from être beau garçon to le beau monde. As if that wasn't enough, the French beau proves that he isn't just another pretty face. He's a hard worker impacting the French language with transformative powers that goes beyond beautification:

beau with nouns

un père = father > beau père = father-in-law, stepfather

bébé = baby > beau bébé = bouncing baby

parleur = talker > beau parleur = big mouth, smooth talker

beau with verbs
il fait beau = nice weather

faire le pluie et le beau temps = to call the shots

Il fait le beau = he is showing off
on a beau dire = say what you like

j'ai beau essayer, je ne comprends pas = try as I might, I don't understand
faire le beau (dog) = to sit up and beg

beau with the devil

se démener comme un beau diable = struggle like a madman

(from what I understand used in the sense of trying to escape from something)

être beau garçon = good looking boy
le beau monde = high society
belle is the femine form of beau

Photo: Hear Dinky, the amazing singing dingo, chez Jim's Place
à Stuart Wells en Australie, en octobre 2004