Sunday, June 19, 2005

Esquire Lacking Eloquence

Perhaps this is cruel of me, (but if I gave in to that thought every time I had it, I wouldn't have a blog, now, would I?) but I feel the need to criticize a co-worker of mine. She is a highly intelligent woman who was, at one time, a successful lawyer in Washington, DC. She is very well-spoken and distinguished-sounding and is gifted with a wonderful talent for turn-of-phrase. She understands French, but I would not venture to say that she speaks French. She does try, but the results are disappointing, considering her beautiful way of producing sentences in English.

Yesterday, she was talking to a customer who was buying tickets for a local movie premiere, whose after-party is to be held at the Déjà Vu Lounge. In trying to keep with her 'enlightened' aura, she told the customer that the party would be held at the Déjà View Lounge. I much prefer the Déjà Vew Lounge, as most people would pronounce it, over the offensive "view"; the same pronunciation mistake found time and time again in Debussy. You wouldn't tell someone you were making a "rendezview," now, would you? I think not.

This same poor woman also says genre as if it has two distinct syllables, reminiscent of David Sedaris' criticism of a fellow American in Paris' pronunciation of Louvre in his story "Picka Pocketoni". The unreleased R in a stand-alone word is a beautiful thing--allow that lack of 'e caduc' to resonate! Give my ears a rest for a change.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Nom de Famille

Let us take a moment to talk about last names. There are many people here in the US who have beautiful last names of French origin, whether it is Canadian or otherwise. Many of these people, exasperated by the habitual mispronunciation of their names, have wearily conceded and have begun to endorse these mispronunciations. Since I work in an industry where giving one's last name is a matter of necessity, I have, unfortunately, heard many such cases.

There was the poor Belgian woman who, before I told her I spoke French, gave her last name as "Johnfills", when it was actually Jeanfils (which I would take over Johnson any day). I went to high school with a boy who insisted his last name was "Grossgene" when all us Frenchies know that it's Grosjean (he really should have used the French version--that name is a pickup line in itself). A few days ago I spoke with a woman who informed me that her name was Mary "Por-i-yer", Poirier in reality. Later that same day, I had Nancy "Ber-jer-onn" (Bergéron).

In college, I met a charming young man who spoke very little French--his last name was LaLiberté, which of course many people mistook to be "La-luh-bert", missing the significance of that one teensy accent mark entirely. It is unfortunate that people who are blessed with such beautiful, melodic last names must give in to the ignorance of American ears, tongues and orthographic conventions. The crusade continues...