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Archive for October, 2015

In the photo taken inside a supermarket, we read:

Joyeuse Halloween!
Happy Halloween!

Halloween is a feminine noun. The initial h isn’t pronounced.

Here’s a list of Halloween expressions and vocabulary in French, as used in Québec.

à l’Halloween
on Halloween

passer l’Halloween
to go trick-or-treating

passer de maison en maison
to go from house to house

fêter, célébrer l’Halloween
to celebrate Halloween

décorer la maison
to decorate the house

un costume d’Halloween
Halloween costume

se déguiser en vampire
to dress up as a vampire

ramasser des bonbons
to collect treats

donner de bonnes friandises
to give good candies

un suçon (sucker, lollipop), une tablette/barre de chocolat (chocolat bar), de la gomme à mâcher (chewing gum), un caramel (caramel), de la réglisse (liquorice), un petit sac de chips (small bag of chips)

une petite banque de l’UNICEF
a little UNICEF money box

un squelette (skeleton), une sorcière (witch), une citrouille (pumpkin), un vampire (vampire), un fantôme (ghost), une toile d’araignée (spider web), une princesse (princess), un clown (clown), un loup-garou (werewolf), un cimetière (cemetery)

sonner à la porte
sonner aux portes
to ring the doorbell
to ring doorbells

cogner, frapper à la porte
cogner, frapper aux portes
to knock on the door
to knock on doors

vider, découper et décorer une citrouille
to clean out, carve and decorate a pumpkin

Des bonbons, s’il vous plaît!
Halloweeeeen!
Joyeuse Halloween!

Trick or treat!

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I heard someone say this on the radio recently:

On est en tabarnouche!

What does it mean?

The expression être en tabarnak is a vulgar expression meaning to be pissed off. Tabarnak is a swear word; to tone down the vulgarity of it, someone might say tabarnouche instead. The person who said the quote above didn’t want to swear on the radio, so she used tabarnouche instead:

On est en tabarnouche!
We’re peeved! (i.e., angry)

Of course, if you didn’t want to tone it down at all and wanted to swear, it would be:

On est en tabarnak!
We’re pissed off! (i.e., angry)

Check how you’re pronouncing on est en:

The liaison occurs twice in on est en, so in reality it sounds like on n’é t’en. Remember, with the liaison, it’s really the following word whose pronunciation is affected, not the first. In on est en, the pronunciation of on doesn’t change; it’s the pronunciation of est that changes — it’s pronounced né. Similarly, en is in fact pronounced t’en.

Put a pause where you see a slash below to make sure you’re saying it right:

on / n’é / t’en

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In the Québécois French guide 1000, there’s an example question (#8) that reads:

Ça s’peut-tu?
Can that be? Is that possible?

We’ll come back to this question in a minute; let’s back up and look first at the verb se pouvoir.

Se pouvoir means être possible, to be possible.

Ça se peut.
= C’est possible.
= That’s possible.

If you say ça se peut exactly as written, it has three syllables: ça / se / peut. But se can lose its vowel sound in regular speech, so you’re much more likely to hear this pronounced with two syllables instead as: ça s’peut. To say this, just put the s sound on the end of ça, then say peut. (It sounds like sass peu).

Let’s say now that we want to ask is that possible?, i.e., turn ça s’peut into a yes-no question. Of course, you can put est-ce que in front of it and that would work (est-ce que ça s’peut?), but there’s a different way frequently used in regular conversations that you’ll want to know — it uses tu.

Ça s’peut.
Ça s’peut-tu?
That’s possible.
Is that possible?

Remember, this tu doesn’t mean you. All it does is transform ça s’peut into a yes-no question in an informal way. This tu means the same thing as est-ce que, but whereas est-ce que is put before the subject, tu is placed after the verb.

The question ça s’peut-tu? has three syllables: ça s’ / peut / tu. (It sounds like sass peu tu. But maybe you’ll remember that the letter t before the French u sound in fact sounds like ts in Québécois French [like the ts in the English word cats], so, more accurately, we can say it sounds like sass peu tsu.)

In a conversation yesterday, I heard someone say:

Ça s’peut très bien.
That may very well be.
That’s entirely possible.

He could’ve said this after having been asked ça s’peut-tu?, for example.

The next time you want to say c’est possible in a conversation, for a change use ça s’peut instead. There’s nothing wrong with c’est possible, of course, but ça s’peut is used so frequently that you can be using it too. You can incorporate the informally asked ça s’peut-tu? into your usage as well, and surprise your listeners with your natural-sounding French.

If you want to read more about what’s in the Québécois French guide 1000, that’s here. If you want to buy and download it right now, that’s here.

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zervice? oufert?

zervice? oufert?

The advert on the back of this Montréal bus says that parts and service is open until 11:30… well, sort of:

Zervice et pièces oufert jusqu’à 23 h 30

Can you guess why service and ouvert are spelled zervice and oufert?

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I thought this was interesting: McDonalds has a new dish — smoked meat poutine in English, or poutine au smoked meat in French. (See screenshots below.) Both terms are half English, half French, using the same words.

French version:

English version:

What’s also interesting is the use of italics in the French version’s description (and lack thereof in the English version), which tells us something interesting about how speakers of each language view borrowed words.

In the French version’s description (click on the image to read it; it’s in the blue section), smoked meat is in italics because the term comes from English. Bouffe, meaning food, is also in italics because it’s an informal usage.

When you go to the English version’s description, maybe you’d likewise expect poutine to be in italics because it comes from French — except it’s not. It’s treated like any other English word.

The use of italics on smoked meat in French isn’t really surprising — words borrowed from English are frequently put in italics. But this does tell us something important about how words borrowed from English are viewed. By using italics, we’re being reminded that such words fall outside of what’s considered to be “French.”

It’s as if the author or translator is saying to readers, “yes, this is the way it’s said — smoked meat — but we probably shouldn’t say it that way, so we’ll need italics here to signal that.”

What about the italics on bouffe? Italics here are more surprising. Bouffe is a French word — informal, yes, but not borrowed from English. Bouffe and smoked meat, though, get the same treatment: italics. This tells us something as well about how informal words are viewed, at least by the author or translator of this text. If bouffe was put in italics, we can probably assume that words like pogner, capoter, niaiser, etc., would’ve been as well, had they been used.

The English version doesn’t use any italics in the description. In fact, it would seem downright odd to see poutine put in italics in the English version, wouldn’t it?

As for informal words, there aren’t any in the English text equivalent to bouffe, but let’s imagine for a minute that an informal word really had been used: yummy, let’s say. If this word had been used, do you think it would’ve been put in italics?

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At a store, I heard one employee ask another the equivalent of this in French:

Does he have his card?

Can you guess how the employee might’ve said it? She said it in an informal way, without using est-ce que.

Here’s what the employee said:

Y’a-tu sa carte?

In this question, y’a-tu means does he have?, has he got?

Here’s why:

Il a sa carte means he has his card. But, in colloquial language, it’s more likely to be pronounced y’a sa carte. (This is because the final L sound of il is very frequently not pronounced: i’ a sa carte.) Then, by putting tu after the verb, we turn y’a sa carte into an informally asked yes-no question: y’a-tu sa carte? (Remember, this tu doesn’t mean you.)

In other questions, y’a-tu can mean is there?, are there?

Y’a-tu un problème?
Is there a problem?

This time, though, y’a is an informal pronunciation of il y a, not il a. This informal pronunciation occurs because the il of il y a is losing its L sound again: i’ y a. Then, by putting tu after the verb again, we create an informally asked yes-no question: y’a-tu?, is there?, are there?

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I grabbed a handful of usages that have appeared on OffQc since post #1000 and put them in a cloud. Can you explain to yourself how each one might be used? You can click on the image for a larger version.

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