French Simpsons.

This Twitter thread begins:

So, each episode of the Simpsons is dubbed into two different versions for French markets. There’s a Quebec French version, and a France French version.

Fans of the Quebec dub hate the European dub, and vice versa.

In the France dub, the Simpsons all speak in typical Parisian accents. A few other characters have regionalized accents, like the Van Houtens who speak with a Belgian accent, but it’s mostly Parisian, and they don’t try to regionalize the US-specific jokes.

In the Quebec dub, the Simpsons family speaks with a thick working-class dialect of Montreal French called joual. They also do something the France dub doesn’t do: they regionalize the scripts, subbing in Quebecois politicians or places for the more US-centric references.

There are illustrative clips and discussion of details, such as:

Classic episode, season 1’s “The Crepes of Wrath”, Bart goes to France and foils an antifreeze wine scam by learning French. There’s no way to dub around it being some other language Bart learns, it’s very clearly France. Seems impossible to translate into French, right? In the Quebec dub, Bart starts speaking to the French police officer in Quebecois slang, and can’t be understood. (Bart: “I thought they spoke French in France”). It’s only when he learns to talk like a stereotypical Parisian that he can get through to the cop. Perfection.

Via this MetaFilter thread, with more links and discussion and links, including one to Justine Huet’s dissertation Dubbing The Flintstones and The Simpsons in French: A Comparative Perspective between France and Québec.


  1. The famous “We said ‘meh’! M-E-H, meh!” in French becomes «On a dit «bof». B.O.F. Bof.»

    I couldn’t find a clip of the French, but here’s the Portuguese version. Or, at least, a Portuguese version.

  2. Lars (not the original one) says

    And here I was thinking that the meh vowel would be somewhat more drawn out. The clip I found just has a short vowel.

  3. It’s convenient that French has a nice short equivalent to “meh.” I wonder what other languages use?

  4. David Marjanović says

    The clip I found just has a short vowel.

    That’s exactly why it upsets the phonologists so much.

  5. I would think that most translations should (like that Portuguese one) stick with “meh,” which was not at all a widely known term prior to its regular use on The Simpsons. Plenty of people seem even to believe that The Simpsons invented the term.

    The OED entry for the word is rather amusing, for a number of reasons.

    Origin: Probably a borrowing from Yiddish. Etymon: Yiddish me.
    Etymology: Probably < Yiddish me be it as it may, so-so (1928 or earlier), probably imitative.
    Probably popularized by the U.S. cartoon series The Simpsons, in which its earliest use was in the episode Sideshow Bob Roberts, first broadcast on 9 Oct. 1994.

    It is unclear whether there is any direct connection with (earlier) mneh:
    1969 W. H. Auden Moon Landing 22–3 Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert and was not charmed.

    A. int.
    Expressing indifference or a lack of enthusiasm.
    1992 Re: Yes, I actually watched Melrose Place in soc.motss (Usenet newsgroup) 10 July Meh… Far too Ken-doll for me.

    That appearance in the Members Of The Same Sex Usenet newsgroup is the only cite the OED has prior to the word’s appearance on The Simpsons. (In fact, its the only cite prior to 2003, long after meh was well established. However, the OED entry itself is only from 2015.) I am pretty sure that I was familiar with meh before I saw in on The Simpsons, but it does not feel like a Yiddishism from my family, so I do not know where I picked it up. The appearance on MOTSS makes me wonder whether it was in use in gay slang (like British Polari picked up a fair amount of Yiddish over time) before it jumped into the mainstream.

    Regarding the cultural influence of The Simpsons outside the United States, I note that my old friend Alejandro Jenkins (who has a Wikipedia page, despite being nowhere near the threshold for notability; still, I am not going to nominate a friend’s Wikipedia page for deletion), when he was an undergraduate, relatively newly arrived from Costa Rica, was know for his capability to relate virtually every circumstance he encountered to an episode of The Simpsons.

  6. Why did OED3 add “origin” and “etymon” fields to entries, given that they are mere subsets of the “etymology” data? Perhaps to facilitate search tools?

  7. I’ve wondered about that too.

  8. Roberto Batisti says

    The Italian dub of the Simpsons was of a generally high quality. The late Tonino Accolla, dubbing director (and outstanding voice of Homer), made many bold choices, some felicitous and some less.

    Among strangely appropriate choices, I’d mention the translation of “eat my shorts!” as “ciucciami il calzino!” (lit. suck my sock. I think it succeeds in conveying the tone of the original, i.e. a slightly silly taunt, rebellious in a juvenile way; a literal translation would just not sound right), and the decision to substitute a Sardinian accent for Groundskeeper Willie’s Scottish burr (there being no equivalent of a Scottish accent in Italian – contrast Apu, who simply speaks Italian with a typical Indian accent – I think that’s a good choice; some aspects of the stereotypical characterization of Sardinians in Italy are similar to those of Scotsmen in the Anglosphere, plus the staccato rhythm of delivery – impressionistic description, I know – is not unsimilar).
    It helps that the voice actors were all really good.

    Other choices are more dubious – I’ve always been bothered by the fact that Moe becomes ‘Boe’ (why? some say it’s because Moe sounds like some regional pronunciations of mò “now”, but how does that make it inappropriate? And for that matter, Boe sounds like boh, ‘dunno’).

    Coincidentally, this article on the strong and weak points of the Italian dub came out just today, and links to another one of a few years ago.

  9. Lars: Regarding the short vowel in “meh,” interjections in English frequently violate the final-vowel-tenseness rule. Huh? Yeah! I guess interjections are somehow somewhere between words and animal sounds. Comments by those who Actually Know Things?

    Roberto Batisti: I’m reminded of Eco’s Bobbsey-twins characters, Annibale Cantalamessa and Pio Bo. Evidently this sounds even funnier in the original than I’d thought.

  10. I should point out that “bof” is more of a French French expression than a Canadian French one. I’m not sure if we have an exact “meh” equivalent: perhaps just an indifferent shrug? I’ll have to think about that.

    Also, it seems a tad extreme to label the Québec French of Les Simpsons as “joual”; that’s like stating every working-class Brit is a cockney speaker or all ordinary Americans speak like they’re from Jersey Shore.

    It’s just good old man-on-the-street or “chez le dépanneur” Québec French in contrast to “le français de Radio-Canada”.

    I prefer the Québec French version for the very same reason I always liked Les Pierrafeu that way: the North American cultural cues just seem more believable when delivered with a North American voice.

  11. Sorry – make that “Les Simpson”.

    Working in two languages this morning!

  12. Also, it seems a tad extreme to label the Québec French of Les Simpsons as “joual”; that’s like stating every working-class Brit is a cockney speaker

    Both are, sadly, inevitable mislabelings among people not intimately familiar with the respective linguistic situations.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    some aspects of the stereotypical characterization of Sardinians in Italy are similar to those of Scotsmen in the Anglosphere

    More details please! (incomprehensibilty and ruthless gangsterism [in the case of Scotland, the latter being an inevitable consequence of Calvinism] I take as given.)

  14. interjections in English frequently violate the final-vowel-tenseness rule. Huh? Yeah!

    Interjection phonetics are all over the place. How many syllables has “yeah”? It’s a PALM-vowel monosyllable in County Cork and, quite independently, among Sloane Rangers (whence “yah” (n.) and “okay yah”). I don’t think it has the same vowel in “She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah)” as in “(Yeah) I’m the Taxman” (even allowing for the intrusive r).

  15. 1-JJM: “Bof” is certainly European French in origin, but it was widely used in Montreal when I was growing up, and I strongly suspect many if not most younger speaker of Quebec French today do not think of it as specifically European.

    2-David Eddyshaw (+ Roberto Batisti): I once knew an Italian lady who was half-Sardinian and who had some wonderful stories about those summers of her childhood she had spent in Sardinia (which for me compensated somewhat for the fact that her knowledge of the Sardinian language was strictly passive): she emphasized the culture clash she experienced between urban Italian culture on the one hand and rural Sardinian culture on the other, with Sardinians’ reserved, taciturn nature, their extreme clannishness and faithfulness to interpersonal relationships -a Sardinian is a friend for life or an enemy for life, never a mere “acquaintance”, she stressed- were all almost as hard for her to adjust to as the first time she saw a farm animal -a lamb, I think- butchered in the village.

    This lady’s (Anglophone Canadian) husband was a bit of a trekkie, and thus she once summed up being half-Sardinian by saying that “It’s a lot like having Klingon blood”.

    So: clannish and reserved. Those are the two Sardo-Scottish cultural isoglosses that came to my mind, at any rate..

  16. AJP Crown says

    From Roberto Batisti’s linked article:

    When the translation is better than the original.
    If we combine the word werewolf with audiovisual translation, it is impossible not to think of one of the most famous scenes in Young Frankenstein. This exchange between Dr. Frankenstein and Igor, centered on the assonance between ‘where’ and ‘were’, is just one of the many word games featured in Mel Brooks’ masterpiece, many of which are almost impossible to translate. This is why the extraordinary work of adaptation of the film by Mario Maldesi is even called a masterpiece . With perfectly fitting jokes that in some cases make one laugh more than the original , the Italian version does not lose a single gram of irony compared to the English one. A sign that if you rely on people with the right skills, a good adaptation is possible.

    It isn’t clear to me whether there’s an equivalent of Marty Feldman’s Cockney towards the end, but you can’t have everything.

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    People seem to be working with perhaps outmoded Scottish stereotypes here. How are Sardinians doing these days on deep-fried Mars Bars, heroin addiction, and cool rock music of the sort that (regardless of the direction of causation) often correlates with heroin addiction?

  18. So: clannish and reserved. Those are the two Sardo-Scottish cultural isoglosses that came to my mind, at any rate.

    I know nothing about the Sardinians, but I find the Scots — urban Scots, at least — anything but clannish and reserved. Funny and friendly and warm, in my experience.

  19. John Cowan says

    Scotsmen, Baltimore plug-uglies, and opera enthusiasts. Not that these are necessarily mutually exclusive groups.

    ObHat: The Plug Uglies were a nativist street gang in the 1850s and ’60s who wore plug hats filled with wool and leather as helmets. Ironically, they were associates of the NYC Dead Rabbits, who were emphatically Irish.

  20. David Marjanović says

    — urban Scots, at least —

    Lowlanders. For stereotype purposes, they’re probably like Flatland Tyroleans or Freshwater Vikings.

    (…so… they might found Russia, I guess.)

  21. Roberto Batisti says

    @ Etienne: yep, ‘clannish and reserved’ sums it up perfectly. Add the independentist sentiment, with the proud consciousness of constituting a separate ethnicity from Italy/England respectively. And a traditional association with pastoralism, too (though I guess it’s Wales and New Zealand that get most of the sheep jokes in the Anglo world).

    Granted, these are indeed some outmoded stereotypes, as J.W. Brewer put it. They don’t apply much to present-day urban populations.
    Sardinian cuisine (not to mention climate) is several times healthier than its Scottish counterpart, which in turn might explain why Scotland wins hands down in the rock music compartment (many of my favorite bands stem from there).

  22. J.W. Brewer says

    I passed this link on and was delighted to be informed by a friend that the Hungarian dub of the Flintstones is very well-regarded. There’s some discussion of that translation work here:

  23. Roberto Batisti: With Scottish cuisine having produced as unhealthy a food as deep-fried mars bars (even our own best-known culinary specialty, poutine, is a health food by comparison), I suspect it is not just Sardinian cuisine which is several times healthier than Scottish cuisine. Though admittedly there is a stunning contrast between Scotland, with its unusually low life expectancy (I trust many hatters have heard of the “Glasgow effect”?) and Sardinia, which shares with Okinawa the distinction of having the world’s highest percentage of centenarians.

    However, I admit I do not understand the correlation you seem to imply exists between bad cuisine and/or bad weather on the one hand and good Rock music on the other.

  24. Hat: Darn. My plan to join the ranks of the centenarians by consumption of a Nippo-Sardinian diet (sushi, rice and assorted seafood on the one hand and lamb stew and strong red wine on the other) may not succeed. In the words of many a stereotypical villain: Curses, foiled again! Oh well. It is delicious, so, not much of a loss 🙂

    Roberto Batisti (bis): Oh, yes, by the way, what are the salient features of a Sardinian accent in Italian? Or, to be more precise, what is the *stereotype* among non-Sardinian Italians of a Sardinian accent in Italian, and what is the relationship between the real linguistic features and the stereotypical linguistic features?

    I am actually surprised that there exists a popular perception of a distinctive Sardinian type of Italian: back when I was curious on the subject of contact between Romance varieties I read Corvetto’s 1983 book L’ITALIANO REGIONALE DI SARDEGNA, and as I recall the regional Italian of Sardinia was said to share most of its features with regional Italian varieties spoken in Southern Italy, and thus I had assumed that linguistically Sardinians were lumped together with Southerners, linguistically, by other Italians. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me: and of course I imagine the book may be obsolete in some respects today.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Urban Scots:

    There is (so far as any such generalisation can be meaningful) an east-west differential in Scotland: the stereotypical Glaswegian is generous, violent, drunk and may even be Roman Catholic, whereas the stereotypical Edinburgher is Presbyterian, abstemious and mean. (“Ye’ll’ve had yer tea?”) Quite possibly a banker, and probably a church elder to boot. Practically Swiss, in fact.

    A quite saintly much older Scots relative of mine from Edinburgh I think really did believe deep down that Highlanders were not fully human, but felt obliged by cultural pressure to go along with the factitious picture of Harry Lauder as the archetypal Scot.

    In reality, both personae reside in every Scot, biding their time. It’s no accident that the creator of Dr Jekyll was from Edinburgh.

    We do not speak of Aberdonians.

  26. the stereotypical Glaswegian is generous, violent, drunk…

    I was moved to comment earlier because I was recently in both Glasgow and Edinburgh and had a fine time in both places. Someone in Glasgow asked me which town I liked better, and I said Edinburgh was more impressive. He agreed that was the case, but said Glasgow people are rougher but warmer. They might get drunk and shout at you and even put a fist in your face, but they’d be your friend again the next day, or words to that effect.

  27. This is why the extraordinary work of adaptation of the film by Mario Maldesi is even called a masterpiece

    Yeah, it’s almost universally recognized as a work of genius. Other movies I think are possibly funnier in Italian than in English are Spaceballs and Life of Brian – especially the Biggus Dickus scene, where Marco Pisellonio and Incontinentia Deretana work better than the original names.

    about those centenarians

    “Italians over the age of 100 are concentrated into the poorest, most remote and shortest-lived provinces, while US supercentenarians are concentrated into populations with incomplete vital registries. Both patterns are difficult to explain through biology, but are readily explained as economic drivers of pension fraud and reporting error.”

    Uh… how can one possibly compare the US, with its enormous ethnic and cultural diversity, to Sardinia? What’s so biologically difficult to explain about an island with specific, relatively homogeneous dietary traditions, an isolated gene pool, and extremely strong social ties producing a remarkable concentration of supercentenarians even though the overall life expectancy is lower (only slightly) than other regions due to inferior healthcare? Even the crime in Sardinia isn’t comparable in nature to crime in the US, or in other regions of Italy, for that matter (organized crime has never had a foothold there, whereas feuds are more common). The paper’s thought experiment about passing documents off to younger siblings is absurd, if you’ve ever spent time in a Sardinian village. Everybody knows each other, and for historical reasons even the tiniest towns have their own carabinieri station, library, etc., which is far from being true of other rural regions. Keeping grandma in the fridge would probably be much easier in Milan.

  28. Past the age of 100, a person pretty consistently has about a fifty-fifty chance of living another six months. This fact about the age distribution was enough to raise questions about the supposed oldest person ever, Jeanne Calment, because she was supposed to be so much older than the next oldest person. Looking into her case further, it seems like it was a clear case of pension fraud, with Calment being impersonated by her daughter.

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    @Etienne: Roberto Batisti was building on yet, perhaps deliberately, modifying my point. He’ll have to speak to the correlations between weather/diet and music. I was only speaking to the correlation of music-making w/ heroin use, which I daresay is reasonably well-established. (Although I was talking to my 15-year-old this morning about Charlie Parker and she professed surprise to learn that drug-impaired musical geniuses were already a thing at least as long ago as the 1940’s.)

  30. January First-of-May says

    Concerns about the quality of 19th century and early 20th century records (exacerbated in the USA by the missing 1890 census) mean that some areas clearly have disproportionally few officially verified supercentenarians; in particular, China (yes, all of China) somewhat infamously has none (no, not even Zhou Youguang, even though his age isn’t really in doubt).

  31. David Marjanović says

    About those centenarians…

    Interesting. But, first, that’s a preprint; I’ll wait for peer review. Second:

    Newman’s analysis suggests not. He starts out by noticing something fishy: The parts of Italy that claim the most supercentenarians overall have high crime rates and low life expectancy. Isn’t that weird? Why would an area generally have low life expectancy but also produce an extremely disproportionate share of the world’s oldest people?

    How is that weird? We only need to assume that murderers mostly target a particular age bracket. Once you’ve lived beyond that, you’re safe.

    Looking into her case further, it seems like it was a clear case of pension fraud, with Calment being impersonated by her daughter.

    That has been claimed. I’ve read that the claim makes no sense because everyone around them knew the mother and the daughter and couldn’t have confused them when the daughter died.

    Also, the body was, naturally, investigated. It was found to contain almost no stem cells. That is not normal. It’s practically death from telomere exhaustion. You wouldn’t expect that from a 99-year-old, as the daughter would have been.

  32. Past the age of 100, a person pretty consistently has about a fifty-fifty chance of living another six months.

    I think you halved on the double and meant twelve months. An Italian study claims “people between the ages of 105 and 109 … had a 50/50 chance of dying within the year and an expected further life span of 1.5 years”

  33. @David Marjanović: Assuming that Jeanne Calment was indeed a fraud, it would have to have been abetted by the neighbors, at least in the early years.

    @mollymooly: Yeah, I guess I misread.

  34. I’m not sure about supercentenarians, but I know that Hainan has a reputation for longevity because grannies over the age of 90 are a dime a dozen.

  35. January First-of-May says

    I think you halved on the double and meant twelve months.

    Yes, that’s the number I’ve seen as well (though it wasn’t sourced in the place I’ve seen it).

    Jeanne Calment was indeed an outlier; the next largest known age, 119 years 3 months, belonged to Sarah Knauss (1880-1999 – she died two days short of the big celebrations), with Nabi Tajima (1900-2018) in third place.
    The ranking after that depends on which organization one trusts. I personally take the 110 Club’s side, so I don’t believe in Lucy Hannah’s case, and I do believe that Marie Laure du Serre-Telmon (1860?-1977?) really was 117.

  36. David Marjanović says

    I had completely missed the doubt over the age of this man who died when he was either 120 or 105, the latter in case he was named after his dead brother.

  37. John Cowan says

    It’s not at all strange for the very last outlier to be wildly far away from everything else, which is why it’s common to discard it. Consider S Doradus and the luminous blue variable stars: they are very rare (perhaps a few hundred stars out of the ~1.5 trillion stars of the Local Group of galaxies), very bright (absolute magnitudes between -10 and -12, where the Sun is 4.8 and smaller numbers are brighter on an inverse log scale), very large (S Doradus varies in size from 100 Sun-diameters to 380). There is simply nothing even remotely comparable to them.

    WP says that Ragbaby Stephens (1887-1927?), a Dixieland drummer, left New Orleans because of “personal problems”, which is usually a euphemism for drug addiction. That would have been in the first decade of the 20C.


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