Friday, September 09, 2005

5-and-10 Linguistics

A bit of wit and wisdom from that maverick of useless information, Cecil Adams:

Dear Cecil:
Don't know whether Baltimore ever had a Bijou movie theater. Don't know if there are too many around the country now. But at one time wasn't Bijou a very popular name for a movie house? Where did the name come from? And how is it pronounced? --F.M., Baltimore

Dear F.:
You say it BEE-zhoo, although depending on the neighborhood you can also get away with everything from BUY-joo to BEE-joe--when you start trying to dress up your establishment with a little dimestore French, you take your chances on pronunciation. "Bijou," originally a French word meaning "jewel" or "trinket," was probably one of the five or six most common theater names in the country at one time (the others that occur to me offhand are Rialto, Tivoli, Adelphi, and Odeon). (full article)

"...when you start trying to dress up your establishment with a little dimestore French, you take your chances on pronunciation."

I just wanted to reiterate that quote because I find it hilarious. I was busy cleaning out my desk today (I'm not finished until next week, but I'm not exactly the neatest person in the world and I have to break up the job into installments) and I found the above quote written on a scrap of paper that had migrated underneath a massive pile of what I can only describe as "stuff". I had written it down long before I started writing this blog, and finding it made me so happy to have something to write about for you all (I mean, "for yinz guys n'at"). I do this frequently, writing down juicy quotes, thoughts or bits of info to remind myself to do something with them later, only to have them get lost in the shuffle.

...but I digress. Poor Cecil Adams (and his trusty staff). As much as I admire the man, he's wrong! It's not BEE-zhoo, it's be-ZHOO! BUY-joo and BEE-joe just turn my stomach. This isn't the first time ol' Cecil's been wrong; I beg to differ with his theory on who invented French fries. Every good francophile knows that it was the Belgians. It's the one country in Europe where you can get free refills--granted, on fries and not on Coke--but I like the sentiment.

"Dimestore French" is all around us. I'll bet that just walking through your local Wal-mart you'd find at least a dozen examples (And I mention Wal-mart specifically because it seems like the sort of place that would try to spiff up its humdrum products with flashy names). One of my favorites is Chantilly. It sounds so elegant in French, but when it hops the pond, it turns into shan-TILLY and sounds like pure crap. I do like hearing the Big Bopper sing Chantilly Lace, though; that's just a great song. But using a word like "Chantilly" on an American product is like putting the word "fancy" on a can of green beans. It doesn't really belong there and tends to promise a sophistication the product fails to deliver. For those of you who are unaware, Chantilly is a town in France that is famous for being the birthplace of whipped cream (among other things).

I'm sure you've probably seen some examples of this phenomenon with your own eyes--I'd love to hear about them!

Misspelled sign of the day: "Cappaccinio with icecream, $1.88" (at a McDonald's)

photo: crème Chantilly


Sangroncito said...

I bet you must have a field day with "Carte Blanche"!

Oh, I'm going to miss my little piece of France and French for a few weeks! I'm going to be "in transit" starting Tuesday without internet access until the first week of October when I arrive in Salvador (first stop..Sarasota, FL to check on my addled aunt..then to visit various friends in São'll know I'm back in cyberspace when I come lurking 'round your blog from Salvador starting 10/5! Your biggest blog fan, sangroncito.

Neil said...

I'm glad the title of your blog isn't dimestore French. You are using the real bijou!

Sangroncito said...

See you in about 3 weeks!

Um abraço, Sangroncito