Friday, May 27, 2005


This has nothing to do with French pronunciation, but The New York Times has two articles in today's paper whose headlines use dumb plays on French words:

Where's the Bœuf? by Vincent Tournier
Just Say Non by Stephen Clarke

A little of that goes a very long way.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Les Misérables: A Linguistic Minefield

Les Misérables is billed as "the most popular musical in the world," or some other equally improbable slogan, so it was no surprise that the phones were flooded once "Les Miz" went on sale in the Pittsburgh area. I kept a running list of the myriad pronunciations people came up with--a complete list can be found at this link. You may need to go to the IPA's webpage and download the SIL Doulos font to be able to read the phonetic transcriptions. I have not indicated stress, but have left spaces to indicate syllabic divison.

This may seem like a cruel thing to do to the general public, reducing them to the role of guinea pigs in my little experiment, but it was a great source of entertainment to me and provided me with an opportunity to dust off my transcription skills, which had somewhat atrophied up to that point.

The geniuses in our marketing department don't have the greatest proofreading skills, and I discovered a listing advertising our tickets for the show as "Les Misérablés". Who are the ad wizards who came up with that one??

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

National Limerick Day? Bollocks!

Last week was apparently National Limerick Day, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette solicited limericks from its readers; yesterday they printed some of the overflow. Here is a particularly interesting one, at least from my viewpoint:

Arlene Gardopee, Butler, on first meeting her husband at the research lab at Brockway Glass Co. in Brockway, where he worked in product development:

In the summer of seventy-four,
He set out in search of amour.
So he said to Arlene,
Want to see my machine?
Thus began an affair of the cœur.


Now, isn't that nice. She certainly did try to make a cute anecdote from her life into a limerick, but it just didn't quite work out:

Amour does not rhyme with cœur, no matter how you try to slice it. And the vowel in amour certainly does not rhyme with that in four...that is, unless we're talking about lovin' ovens here.

One cannot, for the most part, rhyme an English word with a French one. The vowels are usually totally different, even though they may be spelled in the same way. And the attempt to rhyme one French word with another one based on its habitual American mispronunciation is unfortunate--she would have done better to insert the Spanish amor, since that would have been closer to the vowel in seventy-four, albeit without the correct R sound. But that still does not excuse the usage of cœur--I can't fix that one for her.

I suppose in the world of butchered French, the limerick works; but it reminds me of my 11th-grade British Lit project involving some "home made" Canterbury Tales: they sounded good to me at the time, but reading them later makes me cringe since my rhyme scheme was just slightly off. And of course, when we are talking about rhyming verse, that slight dissonance truly stands out.

It is one thing to stumble over foreign words and phrases in a private class setting (see previous post), but quite another to do it in print in a public forum.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Pain in the Ass

There is a very unfortunately-named restaurant which I pass on a daily basis in my trips back and forth to work. This poor, poor restaurant has set itself up for constant butchering by ignorant American tongues by including in its name two nasal vowels, the significance of which are lost on our vast, uninformed public. Of course, I am speaking of none other than Au Bon Pain. People butcher this name mercilessly and go through their entire lives never realizing that it is not, in fact, "Aw Bonn Payne". That sounds like a bad Army nickname for some American soldier's German-fighting prowess.

I did hear one of my coworkers try to break the traditional pattern by calling the restaurant "Aw Bone Pawn", which was at least a bit of an improvement in the last word. People around here tend to try to avoid saying the name to escape the embarassment of being heard saying "We're heading down to Aw Bonn Payne for a little breakfast." They'd rather say, "I'm heading down to the bakery" and save a little face. They're not fooling anyone, least of all me!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Language of Love and Film

I have recently started taking a film class for the fun of it. It's not my first one, mind you, but I have been spoiled in the past: those teachers could all speak French, and this one, the poor graduate student that she is, cannot. For someone who has studied film so intensely, she is utterly clueless as to how to pronounce the terms she so often uses to pepper her speech. Here are some prime examples from today's class (bold indicates an improperly accented syllable):

what she tried to say vs. what came out:

fin-de-siècle = fan-de-sickle
milieu = mulyuh
Jean-Paul Belmondo = John-Pel Belmondo

The girl does get points for coming and asking me how to pronounce Nièpce, however. She should prove to be a gold mine for this blog. Coming soon: my experiment with Les Misérables ticket buyers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


This is a blog devoted to the mispronunciation of French, both its diagnosis and mocking. If you have ever experienced extreme frustration with les bouchers de la langue sacrée, as I have, you are not alone! I have decided to express my personal anger/frustration/annoyance in a creative, publicly accessible format.

Feel free to leave comments or email me about mispronunciations you've heard; I'm sure they will add to my immense satisfaction in exposing them to the world.