Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Paf, dans la poire

(une) poire = a pear. Pronounced "pwar"

couper la poire en deux = to split the difference (literally to cut the pear in half)

The word also has a couple of slang meanings:
il s'est pris un ballon en pleine poire = he got hit by a ball right in the face (right in the pear)
j'ai été une bonne poire = I've been a sucker (a pear), I've been too nice and taken advantage of

And I cannot end this one without a recipe...
une poire Belle-Hélène is a stewed pear with ice-cream (usually vanilla) smothered in warm chocolate sauce... Not only is it simple enough for a newbie like me to make, but it is delicious. The first commercial on TV I ever remember seeing as a kid was one of warm chocolate being very, very slowly poured over a pealed pear while a very sensual music played. To this day this memory makes me hungry.
Named after the 19th century Offenbach opera "La Belle Hélène", I encourage you to try it. There are a number of recipes on the Web, including this one.

Friday, May 27, 2005


Some lab testing words today:
une éprouvette (pronounced ay - proo - vet) = a test tube
E.g. un bébé éprouvette = a test tube baby

une pipette (pee - pet) = a pipette

Not to be confused with une piplette (pee - plet) = a chatterbox. I find it interesting that the word is feminine. There has to be a message here, I'm just not sure what. Mmmh.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Canular ou pas ?

un canular (pronouced as it is written) = a hoax

Lately, there has been a lot of speculation over a series of ads from Transatlantys that popped up in trustworthy websites such as MSN.fr. This new company announces the launch, in June 2005, of a major undertaking: building a transatlantic tunnel, joining New York to Paris via train in less than 8 hours! The site details the 11-year long project, features interviews of Transatlantys staff, and even offers a drawing to win free tickets for the first trip!

Of course, the French version of Hoaxbuster was quick to identify this as a hoax, and what appears to be a clever "viral" marketing campaign by Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF - the French railroad company) on a offerings combining plane and train tickets. Nice way of building a database of people interested in going to New York, indeed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Plaçons la barre un peu plus haut

First off, to answer yesterday's quiz: Carebears are called Bisounours in France, a combination of bisou and nounours (baby talk for ours = bear, pronounced oors)
Interestingly enough (thanks André:) they are called Calinours in Québec, combination of câlin (cuddly as an adjective, cuddle as a masculine noun) and ours, again.

Now, let's explore the numerous meanings of a simple word like une barre (pronounced bar)
Literally, it refers to a bar/rod. E.g.
une barre de fer
= an iron bar
une barre de céréales = a cereal bar

Also means helm, as in:
être à la barre = to be at the helm

When speaking of handwriting, une barre is a stroke
la barre du t = the cross on the t

The word is also used to describe pain:
j'ai une barre à l'estomac = my stomach hurts (literally I have a bar in my stomach)

or a mark/limit:
il a passé la barre des 3 millions d'Euros = it went over the 3 million Euro mark
tu places la barre très haut = you have high expectations (literally you're placing the mark very high)

while speaking of money, une barre is also slang for 10,000 francs. It is still unclear how this word (and other similar ones) are going to be ported to the Euro world. Most of my friends stopped using them, but some insist they can be used for the same amount, except in Euros.

Finally, barre can also be a conjugated form of se barrer, slang for to leave, to go away.
Barre-toi! = Go away!

and I am leaving some more obscure ones, and leaving out some I probably don't know.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Some variations on the theme of kissing:
un baiser (bay - zay) = a kiss - pretty formal

une bise (beez) = well... pretty much the same, but less passionate, for example this is what we use for friends who kiss each other hello:
on se fait la bise ? = should we kiss each other on the cheek ? (yes, I do realize how ridiculous this may sound...)

un bisou (bee - zoo) = you guessed it... a kiss. This is baby talk, can be used instead of bise in most cases:
Gros bisous! = Kisses! - nice way to end a letter to someone close

un bécot (bay - ko) = yes! a kiss! This one is more familiar and not as widely used

Quiz of the day: how are Carebears called in French ? Hint: it's related to one of the words above...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Rated R - continued

First, as a follow-up to the last word, I've been asked to provide this important item:
un fils de pute (feess - duh - put') = a s.o.b.

And while the kids are away, let's cover the next word on the list:
un godemiché (often shortened to 'god') = a dildo
Word that, surprisingly, has been all over the pages of mainstream magazines in France, after Chambre 69 (Room 69), a site selling sex toys that markets to women, ran a few funny double-page ads comparing the relative costs of a man and...well...a dildo. There are a few variations to the ad, with a depressed boyfriend, sports enthusiast, sales rep and old gigolo.

If anyone is interested, the company's site is here (probably not safe for work)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Rated R

Since it's Friday, and a certain fatigue shows, today let's just get yesterday's Google riddle out of the way:
(une) pute = a hooker (pronounced as it's written)

It shouldn't be a surprise that there are a lot of colorful synonyms for pute:
une putain
une tapineuse
une agenouillée (from s'agenouiller = to kneel)
une femme de petite vertu (a woman of little virtue)
une fille de joie (a girl of joy)
une gagneuse (a woman who makes a living)
une turbineuse (le turbin = slang for work)

As usual, use at your own risk...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

La cité de la peur

La cité de la peur (pronounced pretty much as it is written - means City of Fear) is a 1994 movie by gang of comedians called Les Nuls (The idiots/zeroes/useless). After a very successful show on French TV Canal Plus, this first (and so far, only) full-length movie has had considerable impact on French culture. From its cult dance scene (La Carioca) to countless quotes and silly visual gags, La cité de la peur is packed with non-stop humor.

Some random examples:
Prenez un chewing-gum, Emile (for the correct "French" pronunciation, try "shwingum"): have a chewing-gum, Emile. Any time you offer a chewing-gum to a French man, call him Emile and you automatically imply he has bad breath.

- Vous voulez un whisky ?
- Juste un doigt.
- Vous voulez pas un whisky d'abord ?
- Do you want a whisky ?
- Just a finger
- Don't you want a whisky first ?

Very classy. And on that note let's end with the French joke of the day.
Go to the French Google site, www.google.fr and do a search on toutesdesbeautés ("all beauties", in one word). Google proceeds to suggest an interesting spelling correction that I'll cover some other time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Des news

Yes, "news" is also acceptable in French :-) Today, a selection of links to what matters in France these days.

On Monday, the country was paralyzed by (surprise) a grève (strike, pronounced gray - veh). This time, the complaint was the government's suppression of a bank holiday last month to finance better healthcare for the ederly. The interesting part is that the vast majority of French people agreed with the proposition a couple of years ago, after a tragic heatwave caused more than 15,000 death, especially among the elderly. Now that no one is dying, the weather is a lot nicer, and everyone had to work an extra day last month, I guess it's the perfect time to take a day off and "protest".

Next week-end, France will vote to say OUI ("yes", as a reminder) or NON to the UN constitution. For a long time, and contrary to the usual pro-european tendency in France, NON was leading in the polls. The race seems to be a lot tighter now. It's been a little challenging for me to follow the debate, but I was indeed surprised by the overwhelming support for NON and the litany of reasons why the constitution would spell the end of the French identity.

And, in unrelated news (or are they?), it seems some clichés about the French are more vivid than ever...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

La porte!

(une) porte = a door (pronounced as it's written)

Expressions using "porte":
Prendre la porte = to leave (literally: to take the door)
Entrer par la petite/grande porte = to start at the bottom/top (literally: to enter by the small/large door)
Enfoncer une porte ouverte = to state the obvious (literally: to knock down an open door)
Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée = you've got to decide one way or the other (literally: a door has to be either open or closed)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Guignolo va!

un guignol (guee - nee - ol) = a character from a puppet show (think Punch and Judy shows in England)
Used figuratively to designate something farcical
C'est du guignol! = It's a farce!
Or to call someone who's not very serious
Quel guignol! = What a clown! What a joker!

Les guignols de l'info ("News clowns") is a famous satirical TV show, that's been on the air for more than 15 years. It uses puppets to spoof current events, and so far has been able to dodge a lot of bullets. Even as the channel airing the show, Canal Plus, made numerous changes to the programs hosting the 10 minute segment, the Guignols have always remained in place. Recently, however, the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA, or Superior Audiovisual Council, the equivalent of the FCC)
admonished the Guignols for a skit calling the new Pope "Adolph II" and making him say things like "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Third Reich".
This is a fairly rare warning, and a serious one, but the show will probably go on. Given the tremendous impact it has on French culture, it is unlikely to go away.

For example, it started some expressions like "à l'insu de mon plein gré" ("without the knowledge of my own free will"), representing French cyclist Richard Virenque denying ever taking drugs (in his own, childish words). The show is also suspected of having a great influence on young, undecided voters who, supposedly, tend to associate candidates with their puppets.

A few videos of popular Guignols characters (courtesy of Neocity):

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Un peu de rap Français

cynique = cynical (see-neek), or cynic when used as a noun. Nothing fascinating here.
c'est un cynique = he's a cynic
ne sois pas aussi cynique! = don't be cynical!

The word was almost begging to be misspelled by an emerging rapper, and.. guess what. Sinik recently released his debut album "La main sur le coeur" ("hand on the heart"). In a way, the opposite of "Le coeur sur la main" which is used to describe someone generous, always ready to offer his heart and who therefore carries it on his/her hand.

As far as the music goes, it's good, not always great (a song about a New Yorker going to work on the 150th floor of the WTC on 9/11 ??), but clearly worth a listen. My favorite has to be "Une époque formidable" ("Formidable times"), where the young rapper revisits his path to stardom.
Amazon.fr has some downloadable samples.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Brice de Nice

For this one, forget the natural French pronunciation (breece deh neece) and make both rhyme with "nice", in an attempt to sound cool. Brice de Nice is the number one movie in France, and depicts the life of Brice, a loser who think's he's a cool surfer and uses stupid expressions like:

je t'ai cassé! (je tay kassay) , literally "I broke you!", used when winning an argument by silencing the opponent. Used by kids no older than 5, that is.

ça farte ? (sa fart), literally "you waxin' ?", supposedly an expression used by surfers

Although most people I know who've seen it describe the movie as stupid and not particularly funny, it's turning out to be a huge success.

Monday, May 09, 2005


miam-miam (pronounced mee-am mee-am) = yummy! yum-yum! mmmmh!
grignoter = to nibble (gree - nee - oh - tay)

Il est toujours en train de grignoter = he's always nibbling

And in the area of French "grignotage", I doubt you can beat PIM's. The delicious cookie, made from a soft biscuit, a jam or mousse filling and a chocolate topping, has a cult following. The classic PIM's collection consists of strawberry and orange flavors, and was recently enriched with pear and chocolate mousse flavors. Although some flavors did not survive (anyone remembers the white chocolate-cherry fiasco?), its manufacturer, LU, keeps the product line alive for the joy of all its fans. It was a great surprise on my recent trip to France, to find out about a couple of interesting additions (which, of course, contributer to filling up my suitcase on the way back):

Coconut Mousse

Lemon Mousse

Tendres Plaisirs ("Tender pleasures")

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Pierre qui roule...

une pierre = a rock (pee - ay - re)

jeter la pierre à quelqu'un = to accuse someone (literally to throw a rock at someone - jeter means to throw)
jeter la première pierre = to cast the first stone
apporter sa pierre à quelquechose = to make a contribution to someting (literally to bring one's rock to something)
faire d'une pierre deux coups = to kill two birds with one stone
un jour à marquer d'une pierre blanche = a Red letter day (literally a day to be marked with a white stone)