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Franglais ... The World Turns on a New Language

Arnie Greenberg

In Quebec there’s a problem with language. The majority are French speaking but English has crept in and in order to keep their language pure, the French controlled government has decreed that French is the ‘official’ language and ALL signs must be in that language. We therefore have boulangeries not bakeries. There are no gas stations, just station d’essence and our subway is called Le Metro, like in France. You don’t cross a bridge, you cross a ‘pont’. A drugstore is un pharmacie (makes sense) and we can’t go to Eaton’s store but we can go Chez Eton.

I don’t put a letter in the mailbox but I do put it in La Boite au Lettres. A hansom cab is une caleche, a refrigerator is le frigo . Once you get onto it, it can be fun.

However, living in Quebec, as I do, can be complicated. For example, a sign may be in English if the letters are smaller than those in French and they can be entirely English if they are in a store and not seen from the outside. Yes, it’s something to complain about and we do complain. I speak French but it’s not pure. Then again, I’ve discovered that the language as spoken in France is not pure either. Language is a major issue here in Quebec where the government sees French as ‘official’.

Canada sees French and English as both official languages. But, to my way of thinking, the languages are getting so melded that we’re heading for something in between. I understand the reasons for this occurrence. First of all Quebec is surrounded by English speaking countries. To do business in the world today, especially with our proximity to the United States, we must speak English and listen to US media, and we do. The young people jump on trendy words and they stick. Another reason is that our cultures are mixed. Quebec became French and then under British rule after the Battle of Quebec in 1759. Even though the language rights were guaranteed, English was now heard more often. The same thing happened when the Normans conquered Britain. Language changed. In the courts of law we use Latin and French.

There is a lot of French because our Civil law is taken from The Napoleonic Code (in Quebec). It’s complicated but the real issue is that with media bringing the world together verbally, the languages of both the French and the English are changing. I could go on but it’s not a fun subject unless you actually use examples. Here is a brief list to give you the idea.

Believe it or not both French and English use words like, rendezvous, and weekend.  Both groups say something is ‘cute’. But the French say ‘footing’ for jogging and ‘le foot’ or ‘fut’ for football. (They mean soccer). Tennis shoes are ‘les tennis’. Basketball shoes are ‘les baskets’. By the way tennis comes from the French ‘tenez’ since the ball was ‘held’ for the serve.

The highest row of seats is ‘top niveau’ and the French talk of ‘test match’. A corner is a corner kick in soccer, a grand ‘schlem’ is a ‘grand slam’ and ‘un goal’ is a goal-keeper, not a point scored.

Can you believe in France someone can be ‘blackbouller’ (blackballed) and while they understand what a WC is (even though it’s English for ‘water closet’), rural Frenchmen call it ‘un becosse’ (from back house) Other sports, like racing, use words in French like ‘leader de la course’ ‘sweep stake, ‘le jumping’ or ‘le handicap’.

In baseball a catcher is ‘recevoir’ (receiver and a pitcher is ‘lanceur’ (a thrower). An umpire is ‘arbit’ from arbitrator, I assume. A birdie is a birdie in golf in any language but it’s still something I rarely get. +

People buy ‘twin sets’ for ‘le look’ and go to ‘le self’ (self service) when on ‘un holiday’. The French borrow openly and often with pride but remember, there are hundreds of French words in the English language that we take as our own. Consider ‘menu’ or ‘bacon’, ‘entrée’, ‘dessert’, ‘regime’, ‘route’ or ‘boulevard’.

While they often say ’mid-wife’, we use words like ‘accord’ ‘acrobat’, ‘argent’, ‘caramel’, ‘confession’ and ‘coquette’. We all know what ‘déjà vu’ is or ‘double entente’. It is not a ‘faux pas’ for a ‘femme fatale ‘ with ‘savoir faire’ to live in a ‘pied a terre’ with her ‘fiancé’ like other rich people or ‘beau monde’, to eat ‘a la mode’s, ‘comme ci comme ca’ with ‘la crème de la crème’.

We have ‘tete a tetes’ in both language. ‘Parking’ is used here and in France. So is ‘le rush or le gros rush’ meaning rush hour. We have ‘le garden party’, sip ‘les drinks’on ‘le patio’ and know ‘le score’. We both employ ‘ relaxation’ ‘le front desk, ‘vis a vis’, ‘le leadership, ‘le building’, ‘le standing’ and ‘le planning.’

There’s even ‘le mixed grill’ on French menus. ‘Coup d’etat’ is universal and we all know what a ‘malaise’ is or ‘a la mode’.

So French to English or English to French is not the issue. The languages borrow from each other and since Russian leaders of old used French in court, I’d venture that many French words are in the Russian language. I know one Russian word often used in France. Ask a Russian what ‘bistro’ means. And you thought it was French.

I’ve written articles about language that took a different turn. There I was talking about rural French spoken by unschooled French or the other way around. Here we call that ‘joual’ which comes from the French word ‘cheval’. They certainly pronounce things strangely down on the ‘ferme’. But they understand each other even when they slur very good French words and ‘I love you’ becomes ‘shtaime’ from je t’aime.

I must say this for the war to keep language pure. There is more English in France than what is allowed ‘officially’ here in Quebec. I don’t know if there’s any way to stop language change, or as my neighbours say, ‘qui sait’? (Who knows?)

That’s it for now. I’m off to’ le self’ to buy ‘un pullover’. It’s ‘la mode’ and often done by ‘la crème de la crème’.

Bonne chance, bonjour, good day, bye, see ya’, adios, au revoire, ciao, ta ta, and have a nice day. It all works for me as long as we understand each other.

Remember, you can’t say ‘stop’ in Quebec but you can in France and a ‘raisin’ is a grape in France. It makes sense to me…after all a raisin is a dried grape. Do you find it odd that it’s not correct to refer to women as ‘dames’ but she is ‘une dame’ en francais? And don’t worry when people call waiters ‘garcon’. He may be old enough to be your father but it’s an old French tradition (even if falling out of favor) since original waiters in France were boys or ‘garcons’.

One of my favorite sounds is a French-Canadian helper on a truck trying to guide the driver into a driveway. He’ll gesticulate wildly and repeat, “bagup, bagup, bagup…” Oh well, it’s close. It’s funnier when he says, “Done spoke me dat. I gone broke your nose.” But then again, you should hear my French.

There’s much more but ‘je suis pressee” I’m pressed for time. See you at ‘le café or cafeteria’  flunch (for lunch), we can have ‘un hambourgeois’ a la carte and crème glacee a la mode, n’est-ce pas ? One strange thing about restaurants is that in Montreal many are called, “King of…” as in King of Pizza or King of Ribs. In French, its Roi de Piza or Roi des Ribs. But I think they went too far when they called one Le Roi de Falafel.

Recently in San Francisco, I noticed many French words or names. They creep into usage. Why not? We’re all cosmopolitan. I saw a gallery called Tongue in Chic. I liked that. A perfume store featured Desir Absolu, Emotion Celeste, Delice Infiniti. It was next to a store called Couture Fine Clothing. I suppose there’s no great issue here. I even saw a store in Florence, Italy simply called, “The End”.

Language changes as people enter the community from foreign lands. Think of all the foreign words you know without ever studying a language. Get with the program. Don’t be a ‘klutz’ it’s all only a ‘kibbitz’.

Is it, Arnie, Arnold or ‘Arnaud’ Greenberg or Vermont? Take your choice or is it prenez votre choix?

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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Last Revised: Friday, May 15, 2015 06:38:58 AM
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