Watch What You Say

So…I know I’m been M.I.A for like the last week BUT with good reason. I’ve been wrestling with the beast known as the common cold. Thursday was rough but I think it knows who the boss is now.  : )

Alright, so this particular post I’ve been thinking about doing for a while now and I’ve decided to do it now, after a funny occurance in my translation class Monday. Alright, so people travel, right? And when people travel, they don’t necessarily stay in their own country or a country that speaks their language. Now, I can’t promise you that all of the following would come up in normal, casual conversation during any travels in France (or other French-speaking countries) but I’m sure you guys will get a laugh or two from these.

Let’s start with probably the most probable one. By which I mean, if any of these slip-of-the-tongues are going to occure, chances are, this one will be it. Merci beaucoup versus cul. Those don’t look like they should sound anything alike right? And, to French speakers, they don’t. But, as a second-language French speaker or as a tourist trying to get around, it isn’t always easy to tell the different sounds and inflections apart. Now, I’m sure most everyone knows that merci beaucoup is french for thank you since that and bonjour and maybe comment ça-va are about the only french words that people know. Cul, on the other hand is french for ass. Or, butt, if you prefer. Mean totally different things right? While they are spelled different, they can sound somewhat similiar to the untrained ear. Basically, it all comes down to inflection. The coup in beaucoup is pronounced like how you would say coup (meaning an overthrow, usually sudden and sometimes illegal, it’s generally used in reference to governments or positions of power) in english or the middle part of the word cool. Either way, it’s got that oo kind of sound to it. Cul, on the other hand does not sound like it’s english counterpart–just in case anyone was thinking it was like the word cull which means to remove or separate something (culling animals for example). Cul, in french, probably sounds closest to the english word cute but bitten off. So, just the cu- part. Now, to throw the inflection part back into this mess, the voice rises slightly when saying cul but lowers when saying merci beaucoup. Do you guys kind of see how this could get awkward? If you try to thank a Frenchman by saying “merci beaucoup” but your voice rises on the end instead of going down, you’ve bascically just told them “you’ve got a nice ass”. Unless that was what you were intending to say in which, you got balls or I guess I should say guts.

Je suis excite versus Je suis impatient. My friends and I have made this mistake once or twice before. The phrase in english is “I am excited for…” and then you obviously go on the say whatever is it you’re trying to say. Some of you might be looking back and forth between the english phrase and the two in french wondering what the difference is. Let me fill you in. Excite–the first person singular conjugated form of the french verb exciter– does not hold the same meaning. It means to be horny. Therefore, if you say to someone in french, “Je suis excite,” you’ve just told that someone that you are horny. You may or may not get a really strange look for it. The proper way of saying that you are excited for something is “Je suis impatient,” which, translates into what you would think in english–I’m impatient for… which won’t earn you strange stares from the people nearby.

These last two I learned about in translation on Monday. Now, before you read them and go getting the wrong ideas, let me give some background. We were translating phrases and talking about the different meanings that english words can have such as the different variations of ever, anyway, then, so, etc. We were working with “even”, in particular the sense or phrase of “not even”. Do you think you made 100? Not even!–that kind of thing. So the phrase on the sheet was “Did they kiss? Not even!” We were translating the question first and the professor asked if anyone knew the word for kiss. One student answered with “baiser.”

Which leads to un baiser versus baiser. Spelled exactly the same except one has an article in front of it. UN baiser is an old-fashioned way of saying a kiss. Most people nowadays use the word bisou for kiss though some of the older generation might still use baiser. Baiser WITHOUT the article in front means something completely different. Can you guess where this is going? After she got done laughing, our professor explained that to us and while most of us got it without her spelling it out, others did not. Ya’ll, her face was the funniest thing when she realized that she would literally have to spell it out for them. Baiser is french for fuck, screw, bang, pick a word. Our professor explained it as “faire l’amour” which works as well. Bit of a difference there isn’t there? One is the equivalent of stepping up to bat or going to first base while the other means homerun, for those of you who like the “baseball” approach to levels of intimacy. So, the laughs are dying down from those of who got the meaning and were waiting for the others to figure it out when one of the guys in class raises his hand and says that he’s got a question. Okay, I take that back, the professor’s face after he said that was the funniest. It was priceless. I don’t know about anyone else but I personally was trying not to dissolve into laughter again. He blushed a bit once he realized how it sounded and after the professor kind of spluttered and was like “oh Lord I’m scared….what?” But his question was innocent enough. He wanted to know what hug was in french.

Which leads to the fourth and final slip-of-the-tongue that I have for you guys today. Un calin versus câlin. They look almost exactly the same right? Sound the same too. Only difference is the “a”. Calin, without the accented “a” means hug. According to, câlin, with the accented “a” means cuddle or to be affectionate. That’s…not exactly what the real world use of the word is, at least from my understanding of what the professor said. She said (and has a point) that the word “hug” isn’t really used much in french–the language or the culture. And it’s true, it’s not. The french kiss cheeks in greeting or goodbye whereas in America, we hug. From an American point of view, it’s not that unreasonable a question since hugging is part of our culture. Here in France though…not so much. Therefore, the word (or the action) aren’t used very much. She didn’t fully explain what câlin was but it’s definitely not as innocent as cuddling. Spooning, maybe. With no clothes. But it’s not going as far as “baiser” I don’t think so….I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the middle, like… shortstop or third base (going back to the baseball analogy)? Basically, the word “hug” isn’t used in french so if anyone asks you for calin (or câlin, because they sound the same) be suspicious. Unless you’re into that, then…go right ahead I guess.

Haha alright, so, like I said in the beginning of this post, other than the first two examples I’m not sure how often these misunderstandings or slip-of-the-tongues would come up but I hope you guys have at least gotten a bit of a laugh from it. I know I have : )  I may or may not post between now and next week. Toussant break for CIDEF kids starts Thursday so we get Thursday and Friday off. The regular UCO kids get the whole week off so most of them are already gone. I will be spending my holiday in a lovely little city by the name of Rome. Yep, that one. I have some friends that are studying there through SMC’s Rome Program and I’m going to go visit them. I’m sure I’ll have some good stories for you guys when I get back if Nia’s blog is anything to go by ( if anyone wants to check it out). The two friends I’ll be crashing with, Julia and Claire, also have a blog/vlog if anyone wants to check them out at

Until next time, deuces people!

❤ Rachel


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