Sunday, 16 June 2013

Playing with Words

A while back, Understanding Frenchman and I were watching TV and an advert for a well-known internet dating site came up. Suddenly, there was a flash as the little lightbulb in my brain switched on and I realised that "Meetic" is not just a corny franglais amalgam of "meet" and "clic" but also a pun on the word "mythique". It only took me about 7 years ...

Actually, though, this happens to me all the time in France. It took me several months to work out that an ImagineR metro card is actually "imaginaire" and that an idTGV is nothing to do with identity and everything to do with ideas. And then there's the Acadomia advert that says "Hugo est un crack aux échecs mais sa manque de confiance le met en échec en maths" which annoyed me for months for completely different reasons before I realised that the last three words are a play on "échec et mat", the French for "checkmate", and it started to make me smile instead.

You see, although I love play on words in both French and English, I think that when it comes to French I suffer from a kind of "pun-blindness". In the examples above, I knew all the words, I knew all the meanings and I knew how to pronounce them correctly, but somehow when it came to making that crucial connection, I just missed it.

When the lightbulb does go on, though, it's a great feeling. And sometimes it does work straight away. I was walking down the platform of the RER the other day when a poster for this event caught my eye. The RATP is an official partner of the Rock en Seine music festival (yes, there's a pun in there too) and to promote it is organising a competition on the 21st June where you can dress up as a rocker and go and have your photo taken to try and win tickets for the festival. The location of the competition? Where else but Duroc metro station?


  1. French love to play on words but unfortunately, their "English" can be strange and it sometimes doesn't speak to a foreign audience. Case in point, in the book One year in la merde", the guy who wants to name the tea shop "My tea is rich" because supposedly, "my tailor is rich" is one of these "typical" English sentences French know!

  2. Ooh yes, like the bank that named its online service Hello Banque, not knowing that Hello Bonk in English makes us native speakers (or Brits at least) think of something a LOT more fun than financial services!

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