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Pardon Their French

Overused vocab you probably never use: du coup

du coup

So…um…like, yeah, well, you know, so anyway…and yeah…interesting blog post…and done.

I’m sure there are all kinds of socio-linguistic reasons for filler words (that I’m inclined not to look up because…hey…Oscars are on tv, and who doesn’t love listening to ritualized thank you list recitation couched in a self-congratulatory three-to-four hour spectacle?), but what intrigues me is how the inane repetition of unnecessary words (and some barely qualify as words) can bring you closer to “native” quality speech. And conversely, how one…euh…how you say…misuse of filler can make you sound foreign despite otherwise impeccable grammar and vocabulary.

French 101 classes have been teaching “euh” (to replace the American “um”) and “bon ben” (kind of “ok…well”), “bof” (to express indifference “whatever”) and others for years now, but I think “du coup” flies under the radar of most American students and teachers. Go eavesdrop on some Parisians, however, and you’ll hear “du coup” punctuating the dead spots of stories with almost the same frequency that an American says “like” or “you know” or “so”.

See if you can hear it in this gamer-dude’s Youtube vid:

If you weren’t too distracted by the virtuoso use of steadycam (rivaling Birdman or Russian Ark), you may have noticed “du coup” and “alors du coup.” But what does it mean? Why are people suddenly using it so much? Should you start to say it? Can you even say it?

What does it mean?

Let’s see what French people are saying over at “anglaisfacile.com” where user Guillaume asks how to translate 

“Cette fille est laide. Du coup, je ne m’étais jamais intéressé à elle.”

He ends up with “Thus, I had never been interested in her.” ok…so…that…sounds…fluent. Yeah, “thus” . Just use “du coup” wherever you would use “thus”.

Let’s try another approach. Here’s a tweet that uses “du coup”

This basically says, “ok, so…got to go, so, night.”

Some people might say that “du coup” is  “suddenly” (like in “tout d’un coup”) or “consequently”, but the way it’s being used these days is more vague and less forceful, like “so…” Chances are, if you take “du coup” out of an average conversation, you won’t lose anything.

Why are people suddenly using it so much?

I don’t know. But a blog post by French pulp fiction/crime writer Claudine Chollet suggests that by 2006 it had reached epidemic status (her first sentence: L’expression “du coup” se propage actuellement comme un virus et contamine toutes les conversations.) Read the comments section of her post and you get the impression that it’s cyclical. An 80 year-old woman says that when she was young, she was taught that commoners used that expression. For 60 years, she claims, it disappeared, only to resurface and torment her again.

Should you start to say it? 

Probably not. Mme Chollet calls “du coup” a form of intellectual manipulation—an impostor of “consequently” that presupposes your agreement with dubious logic. Yeah, but I don’t care about lexical morality, you say. Oh. In that case, it depends on your answer to the next question.

Can you even say it?

Most anglophones have trouble with the “u”  [y] and “ou” [u] in du coup—especially in such close proximity. If you have to make a conscious effort to say something that functions as an unconscious tick, maybe not. On the other hand, if you can say it three times fast with a great accent and an effortless sloppiness, then go for it. Spread the virus.

Pardon Their French, part III

French usage in anglophone media can range from “pretty respectable” to “was that supposed to be French?” Last week, part deux focused on a character’s inexplicable French-narrated-while-singing thoughts in the TV show Community; on the first week, part 1 took a look at how French was used in Sherlock Holmes(film, 2009). Today’s follow-up goes right to the most glorious instance of French and Franglais ever used in film: the taunting French knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Do I need to set the scene for you? I hope not. You should be thinking of moose- and llama-riddled opening credits, an epic soundtrack, and questions of coconut migration already. But in this post, we’re just dealing with the French.

And what are the French doing in Britain?

Most of the dialogue is not in French at all, but instead an outrageous French accent. However, there’s one fantastic imperative that has (I hope) fooled legions of aspiring francophones:

Fetchez la vache!

Of course, fetcher is not a real French verb, but with all the other cognates floating around, it’s plausible that it would be. I like to think that somewhere out there, there’s been some nerdy kid raised on Monty Python who’s innocently dropped it into an attempted French conversation, only to elicit the same incredulous “Quoi?” as we hear from the other French knights.

 

For the quality of the French usage, 0/5 stars. For the quality of absolutely everything else, this classic is above reproach.

Pardon Their French, part deux

French usage in anglophone media can range from “pretty respectable” to “was that supposed to be French?” Last week, part 1 took a look at how French was used in Sherlock Holmes(film, 2009). Today’s follow-up takes a look at a more recent example, this time from the TV show Community‘s fifth season (2014).

In this clip, a wistful French woman’s voice sings the thoughts of Greendale Community College’s Dean, Craig Pelton, variously described as a “pansexual imp” and “innocent pervert”. His crush on one of the main characters leads him to awkwardly attempt to engineer situations to get him closer to the object of his affections, including, in this scene, a failed attempt to get Jeff to learn Excel with him.

So how’s the French? Well…it’s about what we’d expect from an institution with Greendale’s reputation.

The most prominent mistake comes at the very end, when the Dean realizes, in song, that his thoughts are in French (with a question mark of surprise). The singing voice audibly says, Mes pensées sont français. See the problem? The word pensée is feminine, so there are two possible corrections to make: either “mes pensées sont en français” or “mes pensées sont françaises”. The latter, though, seems that it would have the meaning of culturally or nationally French…which also doesn’t seem to make sense.

The other big mistake comes towards the middle of the song: comme les marins qui fument cigarettes sur le canal”. If Dan Harmon and the script writers had read What The French?!, they’d know that needy nouns like cigarettes need articles: des cigarettes would have worked.

The verdict: The style of the singing and the music and the bizarre way it fits the scene are great. The actual French grammar leaves a bit to be desired.

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