Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pardon My French

My maternal grandmother had many admirable qualities. Patience was not among them.

In a checkout line, she was usually the one sighing dramatically and wondering aloud what the holdup was. But it was behind the wheel that her exasperation was on full display. The target was anyone who slowed her from reaching her destination, no matter how briefly or unavoidably. No one aroused her wrath like a driver making a left turn without a designated lane. The very nerve!

As far as I know, Grandma learned to drive in this country, but she reverted to her native French when hurling epithets on the road. As a child, I found the practice fascinating, if slightly alarming. She wasn't at all given to profanity (I heard her say "crap" and "shit" exactly once each), yet I felt sure these exotic expressions were dark curses indeed - things so bad they couldn't be voiced in English.

Years later, when I had a stronger grasp of French, I realized how wrong I'd been. Most of the "oaths" turned out to be variations of fool or idiot. The French have countless ways to impugn a person's intelligence, a few of them disconcertingly tender.

Though somewhat relieved, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed.

3 comments:

Peg said...

Ok, examples please! especially of the disconcertingly tender. That sounds useful.

MIssing DC said...

I believe I told you I'm working on my French. One of these days I just may learn the bad words too.

Mykljak said...

Kindly: nigaud, cocot ...

Unkindly: idiot, imbécile, crétin, crétin fini, bête, brute, empoté, niais, pouf, pétasse, midinette, paysan, péquenaud, connard ...

Those are just a few nouns. Things really open up with adjectives and more complex forms.