Fairy Ann.

Back in 2006, we here at LH (always ahead of the curve) discussed the WWI-era Tommyfied French “san fairy Ann” (ça ne fait rien); now Mark Liberman has posted about it at the Log, spurred by David Shariatmadari’s “That eggcorn moment” (“If you’ve been signalled out by friends for saying ‘when all is set and done’, you’re not alone – linguists even have a word for it”). Both Liberman and Shariatmadari quote a wonderful paragraph by Jeanette Winterson about “damp squid”; Liberman goes on to cite this further passage:

My father was in Ipres, (pronounced Wipers), during the War, and like many of his generation, came back with bits of French.

Ce ne fait rien turned into San Fairy Ann, meaning Stuff You, and then a new character emerged in Lancashire-speak, known as Fairy Ann; a got-up creature, no better than she should be, who couldn’t give a damn. ‘San Fairy Ann to you’, morphed into, ‘Who does she think she is? Fairy Ann?’

And he quotes he OED on san fairy ann., n.:

Jocular form repr. French ça ne fait rien ‘it does not matter’, said to have originated in army use in the war of 1914–18.

An expression of indifference to, or resigned acceptance of, a state of affairs. Also ellipt. as Fairy Ann.

And yes, I’m quite sure “signalled out” in the subhead is a deliberate eggcorn. (Thanks for the link, Eric!)

Comments

  1. My father was in Ipres, (pronounced Wipers), during the War, and like many of his generation, came back with bits of French.

    The author seems to be in an artificially induced comma.

  2. “Napoo” is another one that’s been discussed before.

  3. Indeed, that was the topic of the LH post I linked: Fairy Ann came up in the comments.

  4. And yes, I’m quite sure “signalled out” in the subhead is a deliberate eggcorn.

    He signals it out as an eggcorn in the 5th paragraph. Interestingly, it’s spelled with two Ls in the subhead, with one L in the text.

  5. A friend of mine’s father, a farmer in southeast Alabama who probably never travelled beyond the next county and remained illiterate to the end of his days, used to say “mercy boucups” for “thank you.” I have no idea where that came from.

  6. A Texan friend of mine used to render “faux pas” jocularly as “fox paw.” whether this was a real observed-in-the-wild solecism or a mock one, I don’t know

  7. Charles Perry says:

    At Rolling Stone in the Seventies, I once had to edit a piece of copy in which the writer used the expression, “It’s a doggy-dog world.”

  8. I’m quite sure “signalled out” in the subhead is a deliberate eggcorn.

    Yes, but for what?

  9. David Marjanović says:

    For “singled out”.

    I wonder whether that’s an auditory eggcorn at all, or rather an example of the Cupertino effect: people mistyped “singled” as, say, “signled”, as I in fact just did, and then the spellchecker suggested “signal(l)ed”.

  10. Oh.

    Of course.

    Thanks. “Signal” didn’t trigger “single” for me, for sure.

    Cupertination certainly seems to strengthen “defiantly” for “definitely”.

  11. “It’s a doggy-dog world” was a family saying of ours. I think it was well-known.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Bill W: “mercy boucups” for “thank you.” I have no idea where that came from.

    French: merci beaucoup (silent p) ‘thank you very much’

  13. I’m sure he knows the French origin; he was saying “I have no idea where this illiterate, farm-bound man picked it up.”

  14. marie-lucie says:

    Even illiterate, farm-bound people occasionally encounter more widely-travelled ones. And Alabama is not that far from Louisiana.

  15. Sure, it’s not inconceivable, just unknown.

  16. I used to tell people that Johnny Marr of the Smiths chose his stage name from the French “j’en est marre”. Then the internet happened and spoiled my fun.

  17. In the absence of marie-lucie, I guess it falls to me to point out it should be “j’en ai marre,” not that there would be a difference in sound when you told people.

  18. Charles Perry says:

    AJP — ah, would that my Rolling Stone writer knew that “doggy dog” was a witticism. Impervious to wit, his skull, it was.

  19. If my French was that bad, there might well have been a difference in sound…

  20. Don’t know if it’s WW1 or 2 , but umpety-poo was a favourite of my father- un petit peu…a little bit (more effort)

  21. In P.G. Wodehouse, A Slice of Life: “Jer mong feesh der selar”. That is, je m’en fiche de celà, I don’t care about that.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    mollymooly, LH: It is indeed “j’en ai marre,” not that there would be a difference in sound when you told people..

    “J’en est …” is inccorrect no matter the exact pronunciation, because the 1st person pronoun je cannot agree with the 3rd person verb form est (which is the wrong verb too, être instead of avoir). You would have been corrected on your spelling not your pronunciation.

    It is not clear where marre comes from, but the phrase is approximately equivalent to I am fed up!

    cadoro: umpety-poo was a favourite of my father- un petit peu…a little bit (more effort)

    One of the major problems for learners of French is when and when not to sound a written “e”. Only a person from Southern France would say “umpety”, elsewhere a French speaker would say (approximately) “umpty”. Peu ‘few, (a) little’ does not sound like “poo”, which could be mistaken for un pou ‘a louse’ (just a bug, not a person).

    Perhaps your father meant “a little bit more effort”, but the French phrase only means “a little bit”. The common phrase for encouraging somebody to just try harder is Encore un petit effort!, spoken with “umpty” and a liaison between the final t of petit and the initial vowel of effort.

    Y: “Jer mong feesh der selar”. That is, je m’en fiche de celà, I don’t care about that.

    If I heard any English speaker read from the transcription, especially if spoken slowly, I might hear “mong feesh” as mon fils ‘my son’ and have no idea of the rest!

    It would be more natural to just say Je m’en fiche! ‘I couldn’t care less!’ (with je as just “j'”). Cela ‘that’ (no accent, unlike ‘there’) with two syllables is quite formal: the usual spoken form is ça (pronounced “sa”), which would fit better with the very colloquial je m’en fiche. But the phrase does not need a complement (it already includes one with en unless you insist on mentioning what it is you couldn’t care less about.

  23. Of course, cela.
    I don’t know how good Wodehouse’s French was, or if he’s just making fun of his character, a young Englishman putting on airs by showing off his limited French; the lad is speaking to the woman he’d just proposed to, after she tells him she has another suitor.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    The transcribed pronunciation certainly suggests he is making fun of Bertie (I presume), as usual. The rest would be barely noticeable if the pronunciation was OK (I don’t mean perfection, but reasonable intelligibility).

  25. This is not one of the Jeeves and Wooster stories, but the character is similar enough.
    I really don’t see how better he could have transcribed it (into RP-ish English). Why would ‘mong feesh’ /mʌŋ fiʃ/ better match mon fils than m’en fiche?

  26. I’d have interpreted “mong” as /mɒŋ/ (in a British context), but I guess you’re making a connection with “among”.

  27. Or maybe “monk” or “-monger”.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    KI is right: French mon does not sound at all like the second syllable of among but is closer to “/mɒŋ/”. If the “pronunciation guide” had not been translated for me I might not have recognized the intended phrase at all. Among the string of apparently meaningless syllables, the only sequence that I imagine would make some sense to me was “mong feesh”, which could be interpreted as a garbled pronunciation of mon fils.

    Here is a reverse anecdote on French-English misunderstanding

    At the beginning of the first World War one of my grandfathers had been drafted into the French navy, but was still in training in Paris where he had been living. Having been granted a one-day pass, he and a friend decided to go to London (by train and boat). Once in London, they had very little time left before the return trip, but they wanted to see Buckingham Palace. It was already quite late at night and there were not many people around, but they encountered a policeman and tried to ask for directions, repeating “Bücking gam Palass! ….Keeng! … Oose! … Palass!” The policeman looked blankly at those two young Frenchmen in sailor uniforms, obviously wondering what they might be talking about, and finally his face took on a look of understanding and he said: “Ah! … petite! … femme!” The two sailors turned around in disgust.

    My grandfather never got to see the palace, or any place in England, but he repeated this anecdote for decades.

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