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AWADmail Issue 124

June 6, 2004

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

New Yorker Fiction, by the Numbers:

Scrabble competitors seek v-i-c-t-o-r-y:

So do Spelling Bee competitors:

You Guys:

From: Catharine Nevin Chu (chuATdreamscape.com)
Subject: French in English

I'm pleased to hear you're doing French borrowings this week. Isn't it funny how words can change their meaning in the process of being borrowed? There are several examples of this in French, such as footing meaning jogging.

Another amusing phenomenon: In English we sometimes use the expression "to take French leave." In French this meaning is conveyed by "filer a l'anglaise" -- literally, to leave in English style.

From: Graeme Balcom (gbalcomATtelus.net)
Subject: French-English borrowing...

In a conversation with a French friend some years back I mentioned that when "someone looks particularly smart, we would say they look chic." He laughed and replied, "In that case, in French we would say he or she looked smart"

From: Mary Feeney (mmfeeneyATaol.com)
Subject: Mots justes

As an unrepentant Francophile, I'm delighted with this week's theme.

Please note that while English may be Germanic, French has at least two important German influences: its name (from the Frankish kings) and the abnormal frontal vowel "u," phonetically [y]--although a Robert Benchley bon mot claims that French has five vowels, namely ong, ong, ong, ong, and ong.

From: Ri Weal (poetriATactrix.co.nz)
Subject: French contribution to English

I did my MA in French creole languages. Pidgin languages arise where the language of a dominant group is used, initially in butchered form, by the dominated group (slaving situations being an excellent example).

In these cases the dominant or superstrate language contributes the vocabulary, while the dominated or substrate language(s) contribute grammar. When the resulting pidgin eventually becomes the native language by a community, it is then called a creole.

While the Norman Conquest of England is not quite such a classic situation, a student a year behind me wrote a paper arguing that the heavy French influence on English vocabulary subsequent to the conquest, while maintaining essentially Germanic grammar, suggests that there is a good case for post-conquest English in fact being considered a creole of French. I don't know which nation should be more horrified at this thought!

I would love to get a copy of that paper, so if Brett Shirreffs is reading, please contact me.

From: Mathieu Joly (jolymATparl.gc.ca)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--causerie

As a Francophone Canadian (my mother tongue is French, though I was born in the US), I am a bit surprised but gratified that you 'finally' devote a whole week to words of French origin.

In modern French, the first meaning "Chat or informal conversation" certainly exists in the Dictionary (e.g. Le Petit Robert, the usual reference.), but I think the more common meaning and usage (at least in French Canada) is "a somewhat informal Speech or talk without pretension" given to an audience (as opposed to a conversation.)

From: Andrew Odewahn (andrewATrouteword.com)
Subject: French AWAD

Last year, my wife and I traveled throughout Europe. Like most Americans, we're horribly mono-lingual, but I found that the following technique is useful for surviving in France. Nine times out of ten, if you think of the most complicated way you could possibly say something in English, it will be close enough to French that you can fake it pretty well.

For example, I saw an elderly woman on a train who needed help with her bag. "Assitance, madame?" I asked in my best Jean Reno accent, and pointed from her bag to the overhead storage. She could tell I didn't really speak French, and I could see her puzzling through her response. Finally, she gave a great big smile and said, "Gracias, senor!" So while it might not be a good enough job to pass as a Frenchman, you can at least be mistaken for a Spainiard!

From: David A. Tozier (wryrytrATjuno.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--bouleversement

Here's a suggestion for the New York Times most difficult crossword puzzle: CLUE -- "tnemesreveluob." Extraordinarily "bright" people -- as well as dyslexic ones -- will see, instantaneously, that's bouleversement (French, for "reversal"), reversed. Simple, n'est-ce pas?

From: Wayne Bell (wbellATthehill.org)
Subject: French borrowed words in English

You mention "near-synonyms" such as freedom and liberty, answer and respond. A related phenomenon is the fact that after 1066, during the period when royalty in England spoke (Old) French and the peasantry understood only Anglo-Saxon, documents and proclamation often had to resort to the use of phrases that incorporated both the native English and the new French terms, which were really synonyms (actually, translations). For example, there still survive some phrases like : "law and order" and "might and main", among others.

From: Holbrook Robinson (hc.robinsonATneu.edu)
Subject: French Words: a small mistake

Nice new theme for the week! As French professor, I approve! But watch out, these waters are deep and sometimes treacherous. In today's note you write: "That's perhaps not bad advice considering that beaucoup words in the English language have arrived via French." The trouble is, the single word ""beaucoup" does not mean "many," it means "a lot." So your sentence as written means: "That's perhaps not bad advice considering that a lot words in the English language have arrived via French." What you should have written is: "That's perhaps not bad advice since beaucoup de words have arrived via French."

    As a (somewhat struggling) student of French language, I concur. However, once we adopt a word it plays by our rules. For example, consider a Greek import hoi polloi, literally "the many". Yet we say "the hoi polloi" even though there is that already built-in definite article. -Anu Garg

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. -William Strunk and E.B. White, authors of The Elements of Style

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