French Language – Strange Idioms and Culture Part 2

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Following on from yesterday’s post because we stayed up all night talking about it, here’s the morning coffee reflection of what wasn’t said over dinner….

If a French speaker claims to be “reaped” or “reaped like the wheat,” it does not mean that someone has gone after him with a sickle: it is more indicative of a lack of money (a savvy French translation would be: one lacks bread). Contemporaneously speaking, today, to find many Frenchmen who know how to reap is a rarity, but everyone knows what it is to be broke.

Let us assume that one day you are eating in a chic Paris café and suddenly, the diner at the table in front of yours shouts out, “The cow, this meal is really great!” If you turn around, will you not see a herd wandering down the Champs-Élysées? Of course not, because you know that “the cow” is an expression indicative of pleasure, just like saying “fantastic.” How is it that an animal became an interjection – one must imagine that it originated from somewhere in a world where cows were a common sight and associated with food and hunger.

Another popular but misinterpreted bovine idiom often used in French is the adverb “cowly”, which means “very” or “extremely.” The French usage of it in common linguistic terms is to say, “I found the film cowly good,” even if there is not a single cow in the movie. The origin of this term is not agricultural, but more a corruption of the word “vastement,” a literary adverb that means “greatly.”

Countless languages often have words referring to food becoming terms of endearments. In English, we often use words that bring to mind sweet foods. In some parts of the United States, people are called “sugar.” In French, endearments are often more down to earth. One might call a loved one “my little cabbage” it does not translate so fantastic in English but it makes the point. A very nice and obliging person could be called “a cabbage,” as in the example, “Please be a dear and get me a cup of tea.” Would a city-dweller have created such an endearment or is it more from the countryside. So obviously, treat like a compliment as well.



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