Saturday, March 16, 2013

Vocabulaire: des bas, le deuil, en berne

I love it when the search for elucidation on one word leads to another discovery, and so on.

des bas: stockings
  • Chaussée avec un soin qui dénotait des habitudes d’élégance, elle portait des bas de soie gris qui complétaient la teinte de deuil répandue dans ce costume de convention.
le deuil: grief, bereavement
  • Vingt enfants ont été tués dans une école primaire américaine.  Donc le président Obama a ordonné la mise en berne des drapeaux en signe de deuil.
en berne: [lit] at half-mast; [fig] falting, staggering
  • On ne comptait plus les minutes de silence dans les institutions officielles, notamment en prélude à des rencontres politiques ou les drapeaux mis en berne.
  • Il faut aussi retrouver l'intimité qu'une libido en berne a laissé s'éteindre.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Gamahouche or gamahuche.   I came across this archaic term in, unlikely though it is, a modern urban murder mystery by highly lauded novelist Lawrence Block (in Burglars Can't Be Choosers, 1977).

It seems to be a Victorian term for cunniligus:
I was sliding the final drawer back in the desk when Ray asked, "What the hell does gamahouche mean?"
I made him spell it, then took the book away from him and looked for myself.  "I think it means to go down on a girl," I said.
I find it on the web at this Fark discussion, the Urban Dictionary of all things (it's usually a source for invented silliness or poorly written insults), the Wiktionary, and this rather steamy Victorian novel.

I shall endeavor to insert this word (heh heh) into modern parlance as often as mores allow.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Parlez-vous martien?

Pompidou Center offers a language course in Martian:

If you’ve already mastered the French language, and you’re looking for a new challenge, the Pompidou Centre in Paris might have what you need. Along with over 100 other activities, the cultural hub is offering courses in Martian.

Whether it's for those who want to add an extra language skill to their CV or for anyone wanting to be fully prepared for an invasion from the Red Planet, a new course at the French capital's world-famous Pompidou Centre could be for you.

As part of its Nouveau Festival, the centre otherwise known as Beaubourg is offering one particularly special course at the moment – in Martian.

The festival programme features performances, lectures, films, exhibitions, and more, all centred around the theme of invented languages in contemporary art, cinema and literature.

“Visitors can write in Martian, create customized books, and discover some 3,000 spoken and written languages,” president of the Pompidou Centre, Alain Seban, told France TV.

Top of the list of exhibits is one about the eccentric, turn-of-the-century Swiss medium Hélène Smith, who laid the foundation for much of the written Martian language.

The Nouveau Festival at the Pompidou Centre runs until March 11th.

I wish I had any idea what the language as presented looked and sounded like.

Friday, February 22, 2013

I could eat a horse

From the Inky Fool:

What with the news that almost every snack in Europe is actually my little pony, and the jokes about spaghetti bologneighs, I keep being asked about the origin of the phrase I could eat a horse. Specifically, does it mean:

1) I am so hungry that I could eat something as large as a horse, an elephant or a blue whale.


2) I am so hungry that I would be prepared eat something unusual, like horse, squirrel or cockroach.

So I set off to trace the phrase back. It turned out to be popular all the way through the nineteenth century. But once you get far enough, the phrase changes to I could eat a horse behind the saddle
 So, it's not the largeness but the lack of appeal that is unusual in the phrase.

Also: "thirsty enough to drink barley-water."  Or, to use a modern equivalent, Cherry Pepsi.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ciao, slave

Who knew?

ciao Look up ciao at
parting salutation, 1929, dialectal variant of Italian schiavo "(your obedient) servant," literally "slave," from Medieval Latin sclavus "slave" (see slave (n.)).

I love the Online Etymology Dictionary!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rock Translation: Tous ce que vous pouvez penser

"Everything You Can Think" ~ Tom Waits

Everything you can think of is true
Before the ocean was blue
We were lost in a flood
Run red with your blood
Nigerian skeleton crew

Everything you can think of is true
The dish ran away with a spoon
Dig deep in your heart for that little red glow
We're decomposing as we go

Everything you can think of is true
And fishes make wishes on you
We're fighting our way up dreamland's spine
With red flamingos and expensive wine

Everything you can think of is true
The baby's asleep in your shoe
Your teeth are buildings with yellow doors
Your eyes are fish on a creamy shore

[Written by and copyright Tom Waits.]

"Tous ce que vous pouvez penser"

Tous ce que vous pouvez penser est vrai
Avant que l'océan était bleu
Nous étions perdus dans un déluge
Tout teint avec ton sang rouge
Une équipe squelettique nigérienne
Tous ce que vous pouvez penser est vrai
L'assiette s'est enfuie avec la cuillère
Fouillez dans vote coeur pour ce petit éclat rouge
Nous nous décomposons en allant

Tous ce que vous pouvez penser est vrai
Des poissons font des voeux en vous regardant
Nous nous frayons un passage vers la crête du pays des rêves
Avec des flamants roses et du vin cher

Tous ce que vous pouvez penser est vrai
L'enfant dort dans ton chaussure
Vos dents sont des bâtiments avec des portes jaunes
Vos yeux sont des poissons sur un rivage velouté



* Surreal imagery!  Tough choices here, esp. in third verse.  Should I have used "se battre" or "se frayer" for fighting a way through?  Is the "spine" of dreamland a physical feature (crête) or "la colonne vertébrale," as if the land were the great skeleton of some vast animal?  I went with the landscape image.
* For "creamy" (colored or textured?), I went with "velouté," velvety and also the name of a creamy soup.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rock Translation: Le Jour de la Saint-Swithun

Thinking back now,
I suppose you were just stating your views
What was it all for
For the weather or the Battle of Agincourt
And the times that we all hoped would last
Like a train they have gone by so fast
And though we stood together
At the edge of the platform
We were not moved by them

With my own hands
When I make love to your memory
It's not the same
I miss the thunder
I miss the rain
And the fact that you don't understand
Casts a shadow over this land
But the sun still shines from behind it

Thanks all the same
But I just can't bring myself to answer your letters
It's not your fault
But your honesty touches me like a fire
The Polaroids that hold us together
Will surely fade away
Like the love that we spoke of forever
On St Swithin's Day

[Written by and copyright Billy Bragg.]

 "Le Jour de la Saint-Swithun"

Quand je repense aux années passées,
Il me semble que tu ne faisait que déclarer tes opinions
Que signifiaient toutes ces histoires?
Pour le temps, ou la bataille d'Azincourt?
Et l'époque qu'on croyait éternelle
Comme un train, elle a disparu si vite
Et bien que nous soyons restés ensemble
Sur le bord du quai
Elle ne nous a pas fait céder

De mes propres mains
Quand j'embrasse ton souvenir
Ce n'est pas comme avant
La tonnerre me manque
La pluie me manque
Et le fait que tu ne comprends pas
Il rend ombragé tout le pays entière
Mais le soleil brille encore en devant

Merci toute de même
Mais je ne peux pas me ranimer pour répondre à tes lettres
Ce n'est pas ta faute
Mais ton honnêteté me touche comme un feu
Les photos qui nous lient
Sans doute, ils passeront
Comme l'amour que nous avons nommé éternelle
La jour de la Saint-Swithun



* Maybe "Que d'histoires, pour quoi?" for third line
* I like how "them" in first stanza becomes "elle" (blending the times, the train and girl)
* Double meaning of "moved" in first stanza is hard to replicate