Thursday, April 19, 2007

English traps

Commercial people in France are constantly using English words and expressions to identify their products, because they think it looks smart, but they often get things screwed up. They love to use words that end in an apostrophe-s, as this looks very English, but few French people seem to understand this construction (which is not necessarily straightforward for people whose native tongue is English). For example, there's a small Red Indian theme park not far away from here. The proprietor has named it Indian's Valley, imagining no doubt that this designates a valley with a certain number of make-believe French-speaking Red Indians who dwell in teepees and ride horses. It would be impossible to explain to him that the name suggests in fact a valley inhabited by a solitary Indian.

The following brand-name patch appears on the back of trousers I bought recently:

First, I'm intrigued by the term Chino. It doesn't seem to mean anything in French but, just as Dick is an abbreviation in English for Richard, Chino happens to be the traditional abbreviation for my son's first-name, François. Don't ask me why. The patch contains another funny word: pant. Obviously, the French manufacturer has heard of pants, he's learned that it's a plural word, and so he has invented a singular version. A pair of pants, so one pant. After all, in French, the word for pants is singular: un pantalon.

An English word that stuns French people is toothbrush. Is it a fact, they ask, that Anglo-Saxons [that's the generic term used to designate people whose native tongue is English] brush their teeth one at a time?

1 comment:

  1. Ah the apostrophe...

    Certainly the French have a big problem - "jean's" ios a classic of course.

    In England, such solecisms are referred to as "Greengrocers' apostrophes". On regularly sees "Potato's", "Tomato's" and sometimes "Carrot's".

    The worst I ever saw was in a car accessory shop: "Battery's" - a real corker that one.

    Turning to "Toothbrush", this is topical - my girlfriend (I NEVER use "significant other" or "partner") who has introduced me to this excellent blog once wrote "Teethbrush" in an email to me demonstrating that she thinks in French. I think that the French have some difficulty with the concept of the collective noun - so for example, they have their "hairs" cut!