From Sturrock’s translation of Sodome et Gomorrhe:

I addressed these words to Francoise: “You’re an excellent person,” I said smarmily, “you’re kind, you’ve a thousand good qualities, but you’re no further on than the day you arrived in Paris, either in knowing about women’s clothes or in how to pronounce words properly and not commit howlers.” This was a particularly stupid criticism, because the French words we are so proud of pronouncing accurately are themselves only “howlers” made by Gallic mouths in mispronouncing Latin or Saxon, our language being simply the defective pronunciation of a few others. The genius of the language in its living state, the future and past of French, that is what should have interested me in Francoise’s mistakes. Was her “amender” for “mender” not equally curious as those animals surviving from remote epochs, such as the whale or the giraffe, which demonstrate to ust the stages through which animal life has passed.

The original:

…j’adressai à Françoise ces paroles cruelles: «Vous êtes excellente, lui dis-je mielleusement, vous êtes gentille, vous avez mille qualités, mais vous en êtes au même point que le jour où vous êtes arrivée à Paris, aussi bien pour vous connaître en choses de toilette que pour bien prononcer les mots et ne pas faire de cuirs.» Et ce reproche était particulièrement stupide, car ces mots français que nous sommes si fiers de prononcer exactement ne sont eux-mêmes que des «cuirs» faits par des bouches gauloises qui prononçaient de travers le latin ou le saxon, notre langue n’étant que la prononciation défectueuse de quelques autres. Le génie linguistique à l’état vivant, l’avenir et le passé du français, voilà ce qui eût dû m’intéresser dans les fautes de Françoise. L’«estoppeuse» pour la «stoppeuse» n’était-il pas aussi curieux que ces animaux survivants des époques lointaines, comme la baleine ou la girafe, et qui nous montrent les états que la vie animale a traversés?

Thanks for the quote, Andrew!
[In case anyone notices that the translation suddenly changed around 8:20 PM EST, I was alerted to the fact that Amazon claims to show the pages of the Sturrock translation but it’s actually linking to the earlier Enright translation, so I had to change to the Sturrock that Andrew kindly sent me. Stupid Amazon!]


  1. I had an odd reaction to the translation. “Smarmily” and “howlers” don’t seem right to me — either unFrench, or unProustian.
    It’s not because I think that they’re bad translations for “mielleusement” and “cuirs”. I have no knowledge about that.
    It’s ridiculous, of course, to say that French should be translated into French-seeming English. I guess it’s because the diction doesn’t seem Proustian. But I have no way of knowing that either. Maybe it’s because “smarmy” and “howler” are to me ethnicly reserved to Anglophones, even though the French equivalents might be very similiar in their diction.
    My reaction is really unexplainable and wrong, I think, but quite strong.

  2. Hmm, until this, I’d only heard “cuir” used (as far as pronunciation is concerned, at least) in a much more specific sense: an attempt to use a /t/ to form a liaison where either liaison is forbidden or there’s no written “d” nor “t.” I wonder if perhaps in the quote, the narrator is using “cuir” in this more specific sense, and then the later prose is generalizing the term or using a metaphor or metonymy?

  3. Just curious, and this is undoubtedly the best place to ask – I was under the impression that the Germanic language spoken by the Franks exerted the most decisive influence upon the pronunciation of French. Are there any studies which investigate the Celtic and Germanic influence upon French phonology? What were their conclusions?
    I agree with you about the two disputed terms John. “Howler” seems as jarring and incongruous as the term “goodies”, for booty or plunder, in Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights.
    “Smarmily” just strikes me as being clumsy.

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