“Fleas & Cooks” : Some French Idioms explained

Secoue-toi les puces !

“Shake your fleas!”, we say to someone who needs to wake up and act. It’s hard to find the English one. “To give somebody hell” is too hard – for this we say : “Passer un savon” (to pass a soap). “Shake things up a bit!” is maybe OK.

 

Couper l’herbe sous le pied

“He cut the grass under my feet!”. Means… To pull the rug out from under, cut off the legs, deprive.

 

Prendre quelqu’un de vitesse

“To take someone with speed” : outpace (devancer), overtake (dépasser), get a jump on (prendre de l’avance, commencer plus tôt). You got the point…

 

Cuisine

  • Cuisiner quelqu’un : “To cook someone” is our “To grill someone”. Well, it’s France!
  • Un dur à cuire : “A hard to cook” is a hard nut, a tough cookie.
  • Vas te faire cuire un œuf! : “Go cook an egg!” is our “Get lost!”, or “Go jump in a lake!” (do you use it really?).
  • C’est du tout cuit : “It’s some all cooked” : It’s all done!

 

Fourmis

Fourmis are insects (ants), and we make plenty with them :

J’ai des fourmis dans les jambes (I have ants in my legs) : pins & needles…

Fourmiller : to swarm, to teem : to be present in large numbers, to move in large numbers. Interesting to say that we use this verb for flat, “on the ground” events, there’s “crawl” into it. Bees can not fourmiller in France! We have pulluler (to pullulate), grouiller (to bustle with, when it’s busy teeming), and we don’t have any “to mill around”. Lovely!

Un fourmillement (you could say “an antment”), therefore, is a welter, jumble, clutter, but also “the fact that one has pins and needles in one arm”, for example.

Thanks for reading!

 

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Don’t learn French, it’s a mess – Part 5 : La place des adjectifs

An adjective in French must be written after the name. A red house is “une maison rouge”, but poets like to put before to sound poetic.

The meaning can be different if you put it before or after. Un “grand homme” is a great man, and un “homme grand” means a tall man.

Here’s a (uncomplete) list of these : ancien, brave, cher, chic, curieux, certain, drôle, grand, jeune, nul, pauvre, petit, seul, sale…

  • un drôle de chat (a strange cat), un chat drôle (a funny cat)
  • une seule dame (only one woman), une dame seule (a lonely woman)

Short adjectives are often written before the name : un vieux château (an old castle), une jeune fille (a young girl).

Well, some of them can be placed before or after : “un excellent travail”, or “un travail excellent” (good job!).

English adjectives are invariables. In French, adjectives change depending on gender and number (I’m sorry, dear).

 

  1. Un petit homme (a little man)
  2. Une petite fille (a little girl)
  3. Des petits crayons (little pencils)
  4. Des petites boîtes (little boxes)

 

Some adjectives like beau (beautiful) and nouveau (new) are really tricky.

You can say “un homme beau” (an handsome man) but more commonly “un bel homme” (I don’t know why, but I suppose it’s because it sounds better like that !).

“Il a un nouveau clavier” (he has a new keyboard) but “Il a un nouvel ordinateur” (he has a new computer) – just because it’d sound ugly with a nouveau-ordinateur (o-o).

 

 

Read books and watch movies, that’s a good way to learn all this…

Thanks for reading!

 

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“Ces belles fleurs et ces beaux poissons sont à moi !”

Don’t learn French, it’s a mess – Part 3 : “tu” or “vous”?

“You” is a little mess in English because one uses the same word to one or to a group :

“You come with us?” addressed to five persons is a problem : You to the group or you to one person of the group?

In French the first you is “tu”, and the plural one is “vous”. Therefore it’s clearer (even if in real life I know the context helps). “You come with us” means :

  • Tu viens avec nous (to one person)
  • Vous venez avec nous (to the group)

 

But we complicated it a bit much of course. Because in French you can only use “Tu” to persons you know very well : friends, family, or maybe little kids. First names = Tu.

The formal, polite way to address someone you just met, an employee, your superior or anyone you have to show respect, is not “Tu”, but “Vous”.

If you buy a coffee, if you’re a teacher in front of teens or adults, if you just met your future mother in law, you have to say “Vous”. Yes, like the plural. I know…

Therefore, “You come with us?” becomes :

  • Tu viens avec nous ? (to one person)
  • Vous venez avec nous ? (to the group)
  • Vous venez avec nous ? (to one person you want to show respect)

 

Yaah if you use the casual “Tu” to your new boss or to the waiter in a bar, you are clearly disrespectful.

The problem, then, is to find the frontier between both!

  • Some teachers (but not all of them) say “Tu” to students, even when they are 17 years old.
  • You can say “Tu” to your manager, but you’ll never do that with the top manager.
  • You will be asked by your future mother in law to address her with “Tu”, when you’ll know her a bit more. It’s often very hard to pass from one to another, and you’ll hear yourself telling back “Vous” sometimes. Maybe you’ll stay in that state!
  • We sometimes want to sound aristocratic for fun, and if you want to sound like a baroness, you’ll tell your mother “Mère, voulez-vous me passer le sel s’il vous plaît ?” insteat of “Maman, passe-moi le sel, stp” – “Mother will you please…” instead of “Mom pass the salt, please”.
  • Your “Please” becomes “s’il vous plaît” (formally), “s’il te plaît” (friends). Kids say for fun : “steup“.

 

To use tu is “tutoyer”. To use vous is “vouvoyer”.

I have a couple of online friends with whom we use only “Vous” in our emails – even if I’ve known them for 20 years. It gives a way I can’t really explain. A way to stand, to be focused and maybe elegant. It’s clearly a smile…

 

Let’s call it the “don’t call me by my first name” state…

 

Thanks for reading!

(and oh sorry for my English here)…

 

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Instagram : keri_karina

 

 

Don’t learn French, it’s a mess – Part 2 : “aller”

“To go” is cool when you’re a little French student : In the present “I go”, in the future “I will go”. I just had to remember “He goes” (not “gos”), and the preterit “I went” – but we early knew by heart our list of irregular verbs, right?

To go is “aller”, in French : this beast is constantly mutating! The present is “Je vais”, the future “J’irais”, and he’s back with the past : “Je suis allé”.

(by the way : “Go on” is “Allez-y”, but “Go ahead” is also “Allez-y”)

 

Of course you know that our first “you” (tu) is used for people you know very well, and the other “you” (vous) for a more formal speech.

Thus if you talk to a group OR to your mother in law, you say “Go on” : “Allez-y”, but if you talk to a kid ou your best friend, your “Go on” becomes “Vas-y”.

  • You have to go? : “Il faut que tu y ailles“.
  • They would go : “Ils iraient“.
  • Go! Go for it : “Allez! Vas-y!”.
  • OK maybe I should go now : “Bon, je devrais peut-être y aller“.

(I’m sorry)

 

Have a nice day!

 

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Don’t learn French, it’s a mess – Part 1 : “On”

Hi everyone. In French it’s like in English. We have I, you, he/she, we, you, they. That simple :

  • Je mange, I eat
  • Tu manges, you eat
  • Il mange, he eats
  • Nous mangeons, we eat
  • Vous mangez, you eat
  • Ils mangent, they eat

OK?

But we French invented “ON”.

“On mange” = “He (the group of us) eats”

You’ll find it useless, and it is. And we use it all the time.

What is “On”?

“On” is a way to say “we”, but in a group. From a few people, we make a group, and it becomes a “he”.

Voilà. We almost NEVER say we, in France, we say “on”, which is “The group of us”.

We in France never say “We take a break” (“Nous prenons une pause”), but “ON takes a break” (“The group of us takes a break” -> “On prend une pause”). Why? I fucking don’t know!

Think about it : you’ll learn “nous” (“we”), you’ll write it, but you’ll NEVER say it, unless you wanna sound a student.

“Do we go?” : you’ll never say “Nous y allons?”. You’ll say : “On y va?”.

I told you, it’s a mess. Give up.

 

Thanks for reading!

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English words I struggle with

Lawmakers concerned about Trump’s mental state summoned a Yale University psychiatry professor who said : “He’s going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.”

I understand it’s something about collapsing, but I’m not sure. It’s knitting vocabulary, right? When do you say that about a human being? Isn’t this verb a bit positive too (like unravelling a mess)?

I guess that stiff upper lip sounds UK, but I’m not sure? Do you use it in America? Does it mean composure and phlegm like in France, or is it colored with coldness? In French, “le flegme Britannique” is a way to stay calm in all circumstances, even if your house is bombed. Thus there’s an (almost) invisible smile in it.

I ask, because stiff is tough and rigid, right?

Shanty is a mystery. Is it a ruin, a small ruin, a sweet ruin? Isn’t it a little house? Is a shanty town a poor ghetto, or can it be a quiet chalet village for tourists? It’s a sailor’s song too??!

What’s the difference between ruse, trick, cunning?

I have a big problem with reckon. First, it’s a false friend, because “reconnaître” in French is “to acknowledge”. OK, it means to estimate and to consider, but also to think. In this last meaning, does it sound Southern, or do you say it in Massachusets too? Reckon on, reckon with, reckon without : do you SAY them?

To bedight : do decorate. Is it vintage? Never said? Funny?

To diminish, to dwindle : What is the difference? To peter into… When do you use this??

Colloquial and familiar…

Ohhh…

Someone told me one day that to learn a language is an infinite process. Tonight I feel terribly weak.

 

Have a nice day!

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Quiff is a mess & French frou-frou noiseling : an #ESL struggles with English words…

One pleasure of ESLing is to gain vocabulary.

This week I watched a clever crime movie, Body Heat. Smart dialogs offer you new words – and I watched it in English with English subtitles. Each time I find an unknown word I remotestop the film and I check on my phone, and it’s… almost always a problem (because the French words are, obviously, “not exactly” what yours mean, it’s always a bit… displaced).

All these words were totally new to me :

  • Outsmart seemed easy but it’s not : beat by cunning, surpass, foil, thwart – what is it exactly? I like the way it’s made : “Out + Smart” (could be offsmart, right?). We have “déjouer” in French, which could be “de-play” or “out-play”. I love the cousinning of all these.
  • Rustle is great. I imagine it’s non human, something in a tree or maybe from a dress’ fabric, right? We have bruissement in France, and as “bruit” means noise, it could be… “noiseling”. I wonder what’s the difference with creasing or crumpling. We have in French the delicious “Frou-frou” for the “dress swish”, the word says it all, right?
  • Searing is clear, but then, when don’t you say burning? Is it… more painful? More red? More intense? Can you use it to talk about meat (then is it spoiled, or delicious)? What is scorching, then? Can I have a searing memory?
  • Arson is “setting fire to property”, but is it a law word only? Could I use it metaphorically, like I want “to arson my feelings/my past”? Where does this word come from?
  • Quiff is a mess. I found the hairstyle thing, OK. But what’s a “quiff’s eye”, then? A “haughty little stare”? (Haughty? Really? New word again… which led me to “your high horse”, a clear idiom, for once). But for quiff I also find “legitimate spouse” (really?), which seemed the case in the movie I was watching.
  • Askew : where is it used? For a hat? For a life? Does it sound vintage or do young people will say it about your eyes (or your books on the shelf)… askew?

 

Where does it come from, to feel such pleasure, exploring this? I don’t know.

Feel free, ô my reader, to make things clearer in the comments. Maybe it’ll help my brain (and some other’s) to understand these daily subtleties…

Thanks for reading! Bonne journée !

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