Cloche – French idioms with “bell”

Here are a few bell French idioms :

Déménager à la cloche de bois (“to move at the wooden bell”) is to go out without paying. To do a moonlight flit.

Etre sous cloche (“to be under a bell”) is to be preserved, protected, with a negative sound to it. To be put under a cover.

Quelle cloche ! (“what a bell !”) : what a numpty, what an idiot!

Se taper la cloche (“to help myself with the bell”) is to have a real feast.

Avoir un autre son de cloche (“to have another bell sound”) is to get another story, another version of it.

Se faire sonner les cloches (“to have my bells rung”) is to get a good telling off.

 

So a cloche is a bell, but also an idiot (as a name and an adjective), and also a dome (a bell cover).

A bell tower is named “un clocher” (say : “closhey”), which is often used to say a village. If someone is attached to his village, il est attaché à son clocher (his bell tower).

The verb “clocher” (it could be “to bell”) means it’s not quite right. Il y a quelque chose qui cloche : something is wrong.

Un clochard is a tramp, a homeless person.

Avoir un esprit de clocher (“to have a bell tower spirit”) is when you want to stay with the opinions of a group.

 

Voilà ! Have fun!

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Learning by weaving

As a bookseller, I hear sometimes this phrase from a mother, about her child :

– He doesn’t read.

This is a screens generation, so it happens all the time! I answer the simple way :

– Buy him books, anything, about what he loves!

Trivial, but true. The little guy will, with a little luck, find it interesting. Something interesting in a BOOK? Really?

The structure here is simple : to learn something, weave it with a subject you already know, or an interesting field.

To gain vocabulary in English, I never learned lists (boring), but I bought American books, short stories (Carver, Caldwell), or actors’ biographies (Warren Beatty, Karl Malden). I underlined words or idioms I didn’t kknow…

Like the British red string :

The ropes in use in the royal navy, from the largest to the smallest, are so twisted that a red thread runs through them from end to end, which cannot be extracted without undoing the whole; and by which the smallest pieces may be recognized as belonging to the crown.

Use a red thread of passion or knowledge into your learning process. If you have to learn German, complete the process with the autobiography of (and other books about) your favorite German director (Fassbinder? Herzog?). Or subjects.

It’s “interesting”, it’ll weave, therefore you’ll learn with efficiency.

Where else to use this?

Thanks for reading!

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Vial & Stoop : Types of black holes in language

I’m French and I write in English – I make mistakes and I discover new words everyday.

When I read an article or a short story, I understand what happens, and I admit I don’t translate anymore.

But, well, I always meet new insects, which are really puzzling at times…

Today I met “Vial“. Never seen this word but I guessed. A little bottle. In French we call this “une fiole”, which I find funny. Same structure : vial/fiole. OK.

Stoop” was trickier. First, it’s a noun AND a verb. A doorstep (“perron”, in French), and also “to bend”.

There, here am I questioning English Gods : why do you have to stoop, if you have to bend or even to bow?? Can stoop be replaced by to crouch or to squat?

Worse : as a metaphor or a figurative sense, to demean, to do something “below one’s status, standards, or morals”. “S’abaisser à”.

OK, but also to slant (to stoop a bottle of wine?) – then what is to lean? – to catch a prey for an eagle (“the bird stooped and seized a salmon” – un piqué), to submit (“stooped by death” or “this people does not stoop to Rome”) – even to degrade?

 

Thus, when you read “not your language”, you see holes. Little ones can be filled by contexts, other ones make you make a face, pick a dictionary, and go travel in language, in an awe, for twenty minutes. You should try French while I study the word “slew” (4 nouns, 7 verbs, pfff…).

 

At the end, I found : Stoop : “a vessel for holding liquids; a flagon”. Come on!

Hmmm. Fetch me a stoop of liquor, please. Two new words and I’m done. Back to bed. With my book!

Thanks for reading!

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“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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