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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.

Grammar vs. Glamour

You may have heard that the words “grammar” and “glamour”¹ share the same etymology², and that’s true. Based on the current meanings of the two words, and the images they bring to mind, the connection probably seems pretty far-fetched. After all, there’s no glossy magazine of photoshopped people entitled Grammar.

Well…a google search did bring this up. (Source site credits it to Mignon Fogarty).

But back in the day, words and books were super cool. I swear it’s true. Owning a book meant you were probably super rich, and therefore better than other people, and maybe even a wizard. Seriously. Because what else are they going to put in books, besides gnarly magic spells for turning stuff into gold (for buying more books) and summoning dragons to devour your neighbors?

So the humble word grammatica (Latin, from Greek ‘of letters’) became associated with books in general and then (by the kind of people who, with no access to actual books, came to the obvious conclusion that they were full of sweet magic) with a wizarding education. It entered English, like so many other words, via Old French.

And from there? Well, to get to the word grammar as used in English today, it was just a matter of keeping the ‘education’ part and dropping the magic. To get to glamour, on the other hand, the magic stayed, but peoples’ idea of what magic is got changed around. Sadly, it no longer has connotations of the transmutation of base metals or reanimating the dead, and instead seems primarily focused on people trying to look photoshopped in real life.

Grammar may be a tiring, boring, non-magical task for the modern student (whose books are still super expensive but confer no status whatsoever), but What The French?! can help. And if you, too, manage to make French grammar seem effortless and cool, people might just start to see you as a super attractive warlock. It could happen.

 

¹(also spelled “glamor” sometimes in the US, but this is one of those extremely rare occasions for me where I feel like it looks dumb without the u)

²(that is, word origin. Not to be confused with entomology, the study of insects)

³(the American Heritage Dictionary online will give you etymologies of words. Pretty “cool”, if you’re into that sort of thing. http://ahdictionary.com/)

Illustrated idiom: “casser les pieds à quelqu’un”

casser les pieds

“Casser les pieds à quelqu’un” (literally, to break someone’s feet) means to get on someone’s nerves, to annoy them. 

How to go through customs like a civilized gentleman

You’ve built your time machine and set it to 1876. You’ve packed your trunk and carpet bag for a trip to France, but are you prepared to go through customs? Professor Auguste Beljame is here to help with his Handy Guide to French Conversation and Correspondence for Students and Travellers, already in its third edition by 1876:

Professor Beljame

Have you anything subject to duty, Sir?

Monsieur, avez-vous quelque chose à déclarer?

—Absolutely nothing at all.

Rien du tout absolument.

Do you know what are the articles subject to duty?

Savez-vous quels sont les articles soumis aux droits?

—Yes, perfectly.

Oui, parfaitement.

Where is your luggage, if you please?

Où est votre bagage, je vous prie.

—Here in this corner.

Le voici dans ce coin.

Very well, Sir, it will be examined presently.

Très-bien, Monsieur, on l’examinera tout-à-l’heure.

—Why not immediately?

Pourquoi pas tout de suite?

Because there are other passengers before you.

C’est qu’il y a d’autres voyageurs avant vous.

—Will you keep me waiting long?

Me ferez-vous attendre longtemps?

I will attend to you in a few minutes.

Je serai à vous dans quelques minutes.

—That is right, I am going to open my trunk in the meantime.

Fort bien, je vais ouvrir ma malle en vous attendant.

What have you in your trunk, Sir?

Qu’avez-vous dans votre malle, Monsieur?

—Clothing, a few books, and some small articles of no importance.

Des vêtements, quelques livres, et quelques menus articles sans importance.

And what is there in that carpet bag, Sir?

Et dans ce sac de nuit, Monsieur, qu’y a-t-il?

—Linen, shoes, etc.

Du linge, des chaussures, etc.

Very well, be kind enough to open it.

Très-bien, veuillez l’ouvrir.

I see that you have some cigars.

Je vois que vous avez des cigares.

—Yes, but only five or six.

Oui, mais seulement cinq ou six.

Not more?

Pas davantage?

—No, and you see I took care to put them on the top.

Non, et vous voyez j’ai eu soin de les mettre en-dessus.

That is right, Sir. Now you can shut your trunk and your carpet bag, and have them carried away.

Voilà qui est bien, Monsieur. Maintenant, vous pouvez fermer votre malle et votre sac de nuit, et les faire emporter.

—Who will undertake that?

Qui se chargera de cela?

One of the porters that you see here.

Un des commissionnaires que vous voyez ici.

—How much shall I have to give him, if you please?

Combien aurai-je à lui donner, s’il vous plaît?

Fifty centimes ought to satisfy him fully, I think.

Cinquante centimes devront le satisfaire amplement, je pense.

—Thanks for the information. Now I suppose that I may go.

Merci de ce renseignement. Maintenant je suppose que je puis partir.

Yes, without a doubt; I have just marked your luggage to show that is has been examined. If you had had any duty to pay you would have been detained a few minutes.

Oui, sans doute; je viens de marquer votre bagage pour faire voir qu’il a été visité. Si vous aviez eu des droits à payer, vous auriez été retenu quelques minutes.

—I cannot shut my trunk. Would you help me, if you please?

Je ne peux pas ferma ma malle. Voudriez-vous m’aider, s’il vous plaît?

Certainly, Sir, very willingly.

Certainement, Monsieur, très-volontiers.

—I see a disengaged carriage, that is what I want.

J’aperçois une voiture libre, voici mon affaire.

 

A guide to asking in French

Here’s a follow-up to last week’s wall of text. Hopefully it will be much easier to use.

guide to asking

Dress your paper in silk stockings

photo by Marc Olivier

photo by Marc Olivier

Real fluency takes a lot of time and hard work, but you’ve got a paper due in two weeks. What to do? This next installment in my series about how to write French papers that don’t suck has one easy tip: use million dollar transition words and phrases. You wouldn’t believe the difference they make on French people or on impressionable professors like myself. Even if you’re not a student and you don’t have to write papers, the same principle applies. Certain words elevate people’s perception of your fluency. Sure, the content may be crap, but at least it will be crap wrapped in a silk stocking (to paraphrase Napoleon).

Transitions suggest that there is coherent thought behind your words. Use them judiciously and you might even create the semblance of the “connected discourse” so beloved in ACTFL proficiency guidelines. I won’t attempt an exhaustive list or a treatise on logical connectives, so consider this a good starter kit.

Putting things in order 

Things that approximate “first”

D’abord

Premièrement

En premier lieu (this one’s the most formal of the three)

You might follow-up with “second”

Deuxièmement

En deuxième lieu

Or something like “next”

Puis

Ensuite

Maybe augment it with a “moreover” or an “in fact”

De plus

En fait

And wrap it up with a “finally” or “in conclusion” type transition

Pour conclure

Enfin

En dernier lieu

Illustrating a point or clarifying

To say things like “indeed” or “for example”

Par exemple

En effet

Or, “in other words”

C’est-à-dire

En d’autres termes

Autrement dit

Ou plus précisément

Showing that things aren’t as simple as they appear

You can introduce nuance with words that roughly fall into the “however” or “nevertheless” type function

Cependant

Néanmoins

Toutefois

Pourtant (this one pairs well with a paradox)

Or maybe introduce a counterpoint (similar to above, but slightly stronger)

Par contre

En revanche (fancier than “par contre” and more fun to say)

Bordering on wishy washy, in my opinion, are those two-part “one the one hand…on the other hand…” type expressions

D’une part…d’autre part…

D’un côté… which you could follow up with De l’autre côté …(assuming there are only two sides) or D’un autre côté…(if this is one more of many possible sides)

Referring to an issue

I’ve always liked the French equivalent of “As for x” (or “regarding…”) because you get to make that crisp “t” sound before the preposition “à”

Quant à …

“On this subject” type expressions

À ce sujet

À ce propos (fancier option)

Showing the implications of your brilliant logic

“And that’s why…” (sounds better in French) and “consequently”

C’est pourquoi

Par conséquent

The staples “thus” and “therefore”

Ainsi

Donc

 I could list dozens more, but those Netflix movies aren’t going to watch themselves. I’ve got some vegetating to do. So pour conclure, words like those above are like force fields against potential attacks on the flow of your writing. They also practically force you to organize your thoughts more clearly. Just think how much nicer your crappy paper will look dressed up in them.

Maybe we’ll work on content in a future post. As for grammar, What The French?! is your best friend. If you don’t own an iPad or a Mac, we promise, we’re still working on a version for you. Be patient.

Speak less badly: verbs and prepositions

When you’re studying another language, English is not your friend. You would do best to forget you know English (if you do) anytime you’re trying to speak or write French.

You might be saying, “But aren’t there tons of cognates?” (Yes, and here’s a list of some 1700 of them.) Or maybe your objection goes something like, “Don’t you realize that the grammar of French is remarkably close to that of English, especially compared to a language like Japanese or Swahili?” (And I’ll admit that it is. They’re relatively very close to each other.)

But listen. Your objections are wrong.

Why are they wrong? Because although English and French share a lot of similarities, that’s not always a good thing.

Why not? It often leads to learners assuming similarities that don’t actually exist. On a vocabulary level, that could be something like taking the English word “crash” and using it (with a spelling change) in French as the verb cracher…the problem being that this means “to spit”, not “to crash”. On a grammatical level, this happens when learners use the word order of English in a French sentence: “I sometimes eat puppies” is a fine English sentence, but Je parfois mange des chiots is not (hopefully you noticed that the placement of the adverb parfois is wrong).

This brings me to one of the most rage-inducing sets of mistakes learners make– and sometimes, continue to make for years, never quite figuring out that French is not English-with-different-words-and-a-silly-accent. That mistake comes from the way a lot of English verbs take prepositions.

Example: “to ask”. You can “ask a question” with no preposition, but as soon as you’re requesting a physical thing, it becomes “to ask for“. Of course, if you assume French is English with the words switched out, you’re going to say (and this hurts me to even type it) *demander pour (which kind of means “to ask on behalf of”, which doesn’t make sense in the way it usually gets used by learners). I have seen it and heard it over and over, read it used non-stop while grading papers and feeling like I needed to scrub myself with steel wool and harsh solvents to get it off of me. French does not associate pour with demander. This French verb meaning “to ask for” requires a direct object, with no preposition: Il a demandé un pain. Oh, and because of this, if you say demander une question, you’ve conveyed the meaning of “to ask for a question”, as an AP test-writer’s boss might do (“I want you to have twenty questions on my desk by Tuesday”). For what you usually mean, you want the verb poserPoser une question. OK?

The same applies to verbs like chercher (“to seek”, “to look for“), écouter (“to listen to“), and many others. Do yourself a favor, and don’t just look up single words in the dictionary. Find either a dictionary that gives context and example sentences, or use a site like linguee.com. That site allows you to enter a word or phrase and see how it’s been used in parallel (translated) texts. Here’s an example:

ask linguee

Pretty great, right? There are so many resources out there that no one really has much of an excuse anymore. Once it clicks for you that even two similar languages like French and English are very different, you’ll be on your way to really learning how to do it right. Good luck.

There’s a word for that: a movie that’s so bad it’s good

Ever see a movie that’s so bad it’s good? Not Sharknado. It’s calculated to be so bad it’s good. Self-aware badness automatically disqualifies it from this category. I’m talking about a movie made in earnest that fails so spectacularly that it entertains us for all the wrong reasons. There’s a word for that in French:

nanar

There’s even a site dedicated to nanars, complete with it’s own forum and a glossary to help you become a nanar savant. The verb cabotiner (to overact)doesn’t make it into French textbooks, but it comes in handy when discussing nanars. Learn more  crucial nanar terms on Nanarland‘s site.

For your viewing pleasure, some excellent kung-fu nanar action:

And here’s another choice example of horrible doublage (dubbing). Be sure to listen to the inspiring speech about the Grand Canyon:

And finally, a gem from Hitman The Cobra:

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