I am delighted to report that regular LH commenter Siganus Sutor, under the nom de blog Siganusk, has started Martian Spoken Here (“Mauricianismes et autres petites entorses à la langue”). As he says in his introductory post, his starting point was Didier de Robillard’s Contribution à un inventaire des particularités lexicales du français de l’île Maurice (available online):

Like probably most Mauritians knowing some French and going through this list, I wanted to add my bit. There were also words and expressions I hadn’t really heard or with which I didn’t agree completely. Little by little, by asking my memory to get things out and by interrogating relatives, friends, colleagues or acquaintances, the list grew up, until there was a feeling that this would work better if I put it on the internet with a possibility for visitors to contribute their own bit and give their own feelings about this, that or the other. Especially the other. Very often digressions have a better taste than the main course.

As a fellow lover of dialects and digressions, I for one welcome our Martian overlords fellow blogger, and I intend to adopt the interjection Baisé! (“Baisé, j’ai cassé une assiette !”), which I wish I’d known about when I was preparing the curses book.


  1. marie-lucie says

    This new vocabulary is a delight, with many words from maritime French vocabulary, some eighteen-century words still alive, and many other expressions savoureuses. In some ways it is reminiscent of Acadian French, which also has some of the same features.
    LH, in what language do you intend to use this new interjection? It might get you in trouble outside of Mars.

  2. I will use it around the house, where if it shocks the cats they will maintain their habitual sang-froid. I fear the chances of my getting to Mars, even the Caribbean variety, are very slim.

  3. Siganus Sutor says

    Hoy! what’s that? I’m not ready yet, and I’m not sure this petit amuse-gueule deserves anything in
    My goodness, it must be the Central Intelligence Agency who’s blown my cover as well as my (own) trumpet! In today’s world one cannot put a foot anywhere in his mouth without being caught red-handed straightaway. Grande baise bonhomme…

  4. Siganus Sutor says

    I intend to adopt the interjection Baisé! (“Baisé, j’ai cassé une assiette !”), which I wish I’d known about when I was preparing the curses book.
    Funnily enough, before reading your post today I spoke of Zaza, a mouse who loves big bad words. And in this post I happened to mention one Steve Dodson. Les voies du Seigneur…

  5. Off-topic, but I think the crowd here might appreciate a linguistic/historical discovery I made today, which answered a question I didn’t even know I’d been wondering about. In a note to a 1613 satirical poem, Discours nouveau sur la mode, I rean across a reference to the haut de chausses à la suisse (Swiss-style breeches), described thus: “la braguette y étoit très saillante” (the codpiece was very prominent). My mind immediately went back to some Elizabethan play or other which I read many years ago, in which many jokes were cracked about the court’s Swiss guards or Switzers and the size of their “weapons”. The puzzle which I then filed away in the back of my mind was, why was it the Swiss who were considered to have unusual equipment? Well, because they were wearing hauts-de-chausses à la suisse, of course!
    P.S. I don’t comment very often, but this is one of my favorite blogs.

  6. Thanks, that’s just the kind of historical/linguistic tidbit I love!

  7. I always found their leather shorts rather odd, with the flap that opens like the loading ramp of a car ferry. They may be Austrian in origin, though — David Marjanovi`c must know that. Grey with green piping, cool as hell, we used to wear them as children, they were a fashion item at my school when I was 7-10ish. Of course, adults look a bit odd and Pythonesque in them.

  8. marie-lucie says

    I always found their leather shorts rather odd, with the flap that opens like the loading ramp of a car ferry
    I don’t think this is the kind of breeches referred to.
    “The flap that opens …” is also typical of old-fashioned sailors’ pants.

  9. I’m not sure this petit amuse-gueule deserves anything in languagehat
    Of course it does. This is exactly the sort of thing that fascinates Hattians.
    it must be the Central Intelligence Agency who’s blown my cover
    It didn’t come from this side of the ocean, Sig–look towards Norway for your double agent. In America we understand the need to tidy up the place before inviting company over. I see Sig has been quite busy on the blog this morning and already there is less dust.
    But Baisé? Does merde mean what I think it means (I’m thinking Spanish “mierda” which I wouldn’t say in front of my students). And how do you say it–like if I wanted to curse out the mariachi tuba upstairs?

  10. Thirteen button sailor pants. We used to get these at Ragstock in Minneapolis.

  11. marie-lucie says

    Nijma, the “m word” means what you think it does.
    The mariachi tuba player would not understand French words anyway.

  12. Thirteen buttons? Well … for … physiological reasons I’ll never wear those.
    But m-l, the whole point of cursing in a foreign language is not to be understood.

  13. m-l: I don’t think this is the kind of breeches referred to.
    No, I didn’t mean to imply that it was. In the breeches Vasha mentions I was thinking of something more like the Swiss Guard outfits in Rome. They don’t have cod pieces, but they’re terrific.

  14. Siganus Sutor says

    In some ways it is reminiscent of Acadian French, which also has some of the same features.
    Marie-Lucie, I’d really love to know what words and expressions are used in Canada. If you also have Haitian friends, or people you know from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Occitanie, Senegal, Switzerland, Normandy, New Caledonia, Côte d’Ivoire or Belgium, please bring them along. All contributions would be welcome. We feel far away from everything and when you realise that faraway people do share something with you, it warms the cockles of your heart.

  15. I think cursewords in foreign languages are normally quite intelligible to the addressees: consider Captain Haddockisms, which are superficially not swears at all, and yet we know perfectly well what the Captain must really (so to speak) be saying.
    No, the true virtue of foreign swears is that (like Haddockisms) they are new and fresh: they have not yet worn out their (so to speak) sis-boom-ah.

  16. Siganus Sutor says

    John, you are probably right. It reminds me of that uncle of mine I saw only once in my life. He is of Hungarian origin and he married my mother’s sister. The only time he came here I think, he used to say “baisé !” at least a dozen times each day, the most memorable occasion being when he was on board a little boat that literally split in two. He seemed to just love the word.

  17. David Marjanović says

    I always found their leather shorts rather odd, with the flap that opens like the loading ramp of a car ferry. They may be Austrian in origin, though — David Marjanovi`c must know that.

    And/or Bavarian.

    He is of Hungarian origin

    Why am I not surprised.

    which I wouldn’t say in front of my students


  18. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: You better ask Etienne about interesting expressions in French-speaking parts of Canada and in other francophone countries from which immigrants have come to Canada. I have always lived in English-speaking parts, so even though I have travelled through the country (there are French speakers everywhere, beside the huge “bloc” in Québec) and I am able to speak French with a variety of people here, I am not in close or frequent enough contact with them to be a good source on the French varieties in Canada.
    I have only looked at the first couple of pages of your list but if I spot interesting items I will let you know. One which I noticed already is barachois which is also used in Acadia. It must come from the Poitou-Vendée region where most Acadian ancestors came from: this region includes marshlands and tidal flats where people long ago developed ways to put the land/sea interface to good use and later adapted the techniques to similar environments in Atlantic Canada.

  19. Siganus Sutor says

    All right Marie-Lucie. But it’s up to Étienne to see whether he wants to bother himself with all that. In the meantime your expertise on words in regional French has already proven to be valuable. I didn’t know that “bar(r)achois” was a word used in Western France. You can find it in Reunion Island too (Saint-Denis’s seafront is even called “Le Barachois”) and I’m wondering whether in the French-speaking West Indies they have it as well. I have opened a suggestion box and anything like that is welcome there.

  20. Siganus Sutor says

    I didn’t know that “bar(r)achois” was a word used in Western France.
    Marie-Lucie, actually you didn’t say that. You only said that it was a word used in Acadia. I just discovered that “barachois” has its Wiki entry, in which it is said that “the term comes from a Basque word, “barratxoa”, meaning “little bar”.
    Wow! I thought “silhouette” was about the only word of Basque origin in French. If this is true, here’s another one.
    The difference between what is said in the Wikipedia article and our own barachois is that here they are usually man-made, whereas the Acadian ones seem to be formed by natural bars.

  21. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: I thought “silhouette” was about the only word of Basque origin in French.
    This is news to me: where did you learn it?
    The word (originally a place-name, then a family name) must be of Occitan origin, as shown by the letter combination lh in the middle, which in Occitan as in Portuguese corresponds to the (i)ll (which formerly had a “palatalized” sound, a sort of blend of l and y, distinct from y) in Spanish and French. Since the lh combination does not mean anything to a (Northern) French speaker, the word is pronounced in French as if written “silouette” rather than “sillouette”.

  22. Wikipedia and the Online Etymology Dictionary both propose a Basque form of Arnaud de Silhouette’s name. Unclear what their source is; the current OED does not have this.
    It’s possible that anchois is from Basque, since the Greek through Italian alternative involves some not altogether satisfactory changes.

  23. marie-lucie says

    MMcM: thank you for the references. The Basque origin of the word was quite new to me. I looked at the TLFI which did not give an etymology for silhouette. I should make a note of consulting the OED as a matter of course, but I did not think of it as a resource for French. Would Basque zilho use lh for a single segment as in Occitan and Portuguese, or for a sequence of l + h?
    I was going to mention anchois “anchovy/-ies” (Sp anchoa(s)) as I was almost sure that it did come from Basque, but the Petit Robert derives it from “a popular form of ” Latin apua, Greek aphuê. Since the phonological correspondences which would have to be assumed with the French and Spanish words seem rather too improbable, I thought it better not to say anything at that point.
    The longer list of forms from other languages in the online Littré basically supports the Basque origin: only Italian has a substantially different word, and none of the words seem derivable from the Latin/Greek forms in the Petit Robert without assuming convoluted sound changes which would not agree with generally known historical developments.
    Also, the Basque word has or had a primary meaning “dry”, which is also that of the divergent Italian word, but in the other languages the word only refers to the fish. This is one more reason to think that the Basque word was adopted “as is” in most of the other languages, while Italian translated it.

  24. Here’s the etymology, straight from Larry Trask:

    Q21. Are there any Basque words in English?

    A21. Not many, but there are one or two. One is silhouette, which has a very interesting history. The English word is taken from French, in which it derives from the surname of a certain Etienne de Silhouette, a French politician of the 18th century. This is a French spelling of the Basque surname Zilhueta, a French Basque variant of the surname Zulueta or Zuloeta; this in turn derives from zulo `hole’ (zilo in part of the north) plus the very frequent suffix -eta `abundance of’. [etymologies of bilbo and chaparral omitted]

    Larry doesn’t add (but the OED3 does) that Silhouette was well-known for his economizing ways as Comptroller-General, so à la Silhouette came to mean ‘on the cheap’ in France. The term was then applied to the then-new style of minimalist shadow-portraiture, in which sense it passed into English.
    However, the Basque forms have no palatalized lateral (written il or ll in Basque), so presumably we have here simply l + h in two different syllables. Basque orthographic h is zero in most dialects, but [h] in others.

  25. marie-lucie says

    Thank you, JC. I did not know of this archive, which I will read with great interest. I have been thinking that I should try to find Trask’s book on the history of Basque. There are already many Basque examples in his historical linguistics book (which is a good, readable introduction both to the subject and to Basque).
    According to Wikipedia M. de Silhouette made a mess of what he undertook in economical terms, but he also liked to make silhouettes himself.

  26. Siganus Sutor says

    As far as I know, a large part of the Basque lexicon doesn’t come from Basque per se. It comes Latin, French or what not — maybe Martian, eventually, as some people suggested. What I find strange is that barachois, i.e. barratxoa, is supposed to mean “little bar”. There seems to be too much of a bar (une barre) in barratxoa to be pure coincidence. There would probably be some debate about whether barachois really is a word of Basque origin if barratxoa turned out to have been borrowed from say Latin before being given back to French in another form. Or would it?
    Something went wrong with the italic tag, sorry*. [Steve, please erase the previous comment.]
    * Martians do say sorry every now and then while speaking French, for instance when they hit you by mistake: “Ayo, sorry ! Tu n’as pas eu mal ?”

  27. “Ayo, sorry ! Tu n’as pas eu mal ?”
    Yeah, Norwegians do that too. ‘Jeg kommer ikke ikveld. Det er min tur til å lage middag. Sorry.’

  28. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: bar(r)achois:
    I have consulted several online resources on Basque, as well as Spanish, French and Italian, and while barra is listed (meaning “bar” ‘long narrow object made of a hard material, typically used for closing a door or creating an obstacle’), none of the Basque sources mentioned barratxoa, or the maritime meaning (which is attested only from the 16th or 17th century in French and English).
    French barre, the source of English bar, is listed as descending from barra, attested in Vulgar Latin, a late version of Latin which is full of borrowed words. Double rr is not very common in native Latin words and barra was thought to be from Gaulish, but there are now doubts about its origin. An older source for Italian barra linked it not only to Gaulish but also to Germanic words beginning with spar: some s- initial words in Indo-European languages have counterparts without s, for reasons still unexplained, and the meanings of spar ‘wooden beam’ (Germanic origin) and bar (French origin, from Latin) are fairly close. This could mean that the origin of barra is indeed Indo-European, probably Celtic, and borrowed into Basque either from Celtiberian, Latin or Spanish, depending on the time of borrowing.
    Thus far, there is no definite answer even to the origin of barra, so the origin of regional French bar(r)achois remains unknown. Perhaps the possible link with Basque was only suggested by the similarity of the word with anchois which appears to be from a genuine Basque word.

  29. There are 37 entries in the online OED with Basque in the etymology section. (I remember doing that as one of the first advanced searches when I got the OED1 on CD-ROM years ago; I think there were fewer then.) With very few exceptions (jai alai), they all have some qualification. These range from skepticism (bizarre: “Littré suggests that the Spanish word is an adaptation of Basque bizarra beard, …; but the history of the sense has not been satisfactorily made out.”) to essentially debunking (jingo: “A recent conjecture, since jingo began to attract attention, would identify it with the Basque word for ‘God’, … Such an origin is not impossible, but is as yet unsupported by evidence.”) In some cases, Basque is only proposed as an intermediary to account for some sound change (matachia: “< French matachia (1603), perhaps (via Basque-Micmac trade jargon of 16th-17th cent.) < early Basque patacha silver coin < Spanish pataca.”)

  30. marie-lucie says

    MMcM, I take it that you did not find bar(r)achois or barratxoa there.

  31. Basque-Micmac jargon has to be one of the most obscure languages ever.
    Re: pants in Minneapolis, Knut Hamsun’s first book was a long grumble about Minnesota and the U.S. Part of his indictment rises from an incident when he was ridiculed as a fop because he had too many buttons on his pants. True fact.
    The immigrants to Minnesota were not from the Norwegian upper crust, but neither was Hamsun (a ropemaker by training).
    Hamsun disliked most of American literature except for Whitman, Mark Twain, and other American humorists.
    I also claim that he was an unacknowledged influence on Joyce. Joyce pretended that he had learned Norse in order to read Ibsen, but that was because stodgy old Ibsen was no threat to him.

  32. I take it that you did not find bar(r)achois or barratxoa there.
    Correct. As far as I can tell, that word is not in the OED. The only mention I find in an Oxford book is The Oxford Companion to the English Language, which says just that it’s from French Canadian barachoix ‘sandbar’.
    Hamilton, whom lots of other modern references cite, does give the Basque derivation.
    Much earlier, Ganong, citing Ferland, gave the barre à cheoir that the Wikipedia rejects. But even back then, Chamberlain noted of Faucher de Saint-Maurice‘s origin (also from Ferland) that it looked a lot like a folk-etymology.
    It does seem likely that Basque barra is from the same untraced (perhaps Celtic) source as bar, but that doesn’t rule it out as the source of the particular form.

  33. marie-lucie says

    MMcM, thanks again for your diligent searching.
    The Oxford Companion to the English Language, which says just that it’s from French Canadian barachoix ‘sandbar’.
    “It” in this case must be the word when used in English. I think that the word is not general French Canadian but specifically Acadian as I mentioned before. The word does not seem to refer to a sandbar but to a lagoon formed by a sandbar, preventing the water from running all the way to the sea. The final (silent) x in the spelling barachoix must be due to the influence of the word choix ‘choice’.
    The same work also gives Newfoundland English barrasway for the equivalent to the French wordt. The final way corresponds to the older, now almost disappeared pronunciation of the French diphthong written oi, now generally pronounced [wa] but formerly roughly similar to way: for instance, Newfoundland also has a settlement known variously as l’Ardoise “the slate” (pronounced [lardwaz] in Modern French) and Lordways, the latter representing the older French pronunciation, still current in certain areas at least among older speakers.
    The spelling with s instead of expected sh in the Nfld English version barrasway also shows a variant pronunciation of the consonant. Variation between the sounds [s] and [sh] also occurs in some French dialects, eg sarcher as a dialectal pronunciation of chercher ‘to look for’. But on the other hand, Basque s (like Castilian Spanish s) is somewhat intermediate between the sounds of French [s] and [sh] (written ch). A transcription s rather than sh or ch in the English version, then, is not totally unexpected if the word does indeed derive from Basque.
    Hamilton’s guide to Atlantic Canada’s place-names gives Basque barratxo or barrachoa as the source for barachois: tx is the Basque spelling corresponding to Spanish ch which represents the same sound as English ch, and the two versions of the Basque name may be different transcriptions of the same pronunciation, or represent slightly different dialects.
    As for barre à cheoir, literally “bar for falling or dropping” (cheoir is the OF form of choir ‘to fall to the ground’, a very old-fashioned word), not only is it meaningless, but barre is feminine while barachois is masculine. If the proposed origin was right, the word would have kept its feminine gender. Folk etymology is definitely at work here.
    Altogether, the word bar(r)achois still presents something of a mystery in the absence of additional sources.

  34. I thought I posted a question about how to pronounce “Baisé” last night, as in “Baisé, j’ai cassé une assiette”, but now I don’t see it. Perhaps I should have said “the b-word”.

  35. barratxo or barrachoa
    I don’t suppose Spanish “borracho” is even close–different kind of “bar”. Every port I have ever seen has a watering hole at one end of the beach, but maybe the Basque whalers were different.

  36. This barachois is getting more intriguing by the day.
    I think that the word is not general French Canadian but specifically Acadian as I mentioned before.
    If this word is Canadian, and specifically from Acadia, how did it get to the Indian Ocean? I’ve never heard of direct links between the Mascarene Islands and Canada. Do you know if the word is used anywhere in France?
    In Le français de la Réunion, the author, professor Michel Beniamino, says this : Du basque barratxoa: “la petite barre”. Le terme apparaît en 1689 sur une carte de Terre-Neuve dressée par un Basque. Il serait donc venu à la Réunion par le vocabulaire des Isles (BOL: 44).

  37. Nijma, “baisé” is pronounced “bézé”. In Mauritius the -é sound is used much more than the -è sound. We do pronounce faire more or less “fèr”, like in frère, but very often what would require a -è sound in France is pronounced -é here. Someone saying “bèzé” would be making a joke, or poking fun at somebody.

  38. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: I found the following in the TLFI: the word is quoted as in use in les Indes, which could refer to India but also to the islands of the Indian Ocean.

    1662 barachoua « petit port naturel au fond d’une anse bien abritée »: la rade du Grand Banc compris le barachoua:

    This example suggests Terre-Neuve (= Newfoundland) and its “Grand Banks” formerly teeming with codfish.

    1783 barachois Orig. incertaine. L’étymol. proposée …, port. barra « barre » (barre*) et port. chao « plat, uni » (du lat. planus, cf. MACH. t. 1) … n’est pas confirmée par l’existence du composé en portugais.

    The phonetic spelling in 1662 suggests that the word is foreign, not French: note the spelling oua for the diphthong, at a time when written oi was still pronounced like way in the standard language. By 1783 the word has acquired a French-style spelling, suggesting that in the current standard the diphthong oi is now pronounced wa and there is nothing foreign-sounding about the word. (The final way iin English barrasway (see above) may mean that the change was still in progress at the time the word was adopted, with some people carefully imitating the Basque pronunciation and others assimilating the final oa to the French diphthong which varied between way and wa). A Portuguese origin for the word is suggested, except that there is no similar Portuguese word. But the Portuguese, like the Basques, were heavily involved in the international cod fisheries on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland.
    All this suggests the following scenario: the word is indeed Basque, and was applied to topographical features of the Canadian Atlantic coast; through the close contact at the international fishery grounds it was adopted by the Portuguese fishermen and sailors, from where it passed into French maritime vocabulary, and from there a) into Acadian French (along with other maritime terms) and b) into the French or French-derived speech of some of the islands under French control, wherever the topography was suitable for the term to be used. There is no need to invoke a direct link between Canada and the Indian Ocean, instead the connection must have been made along the Canadian Atlantic coast and carried to other regions of the world visited by French boats.

  39. baisé pornunciation — bézé; bèzé
    Not sure about what the backwards accent means. I think maybe “bay-ZAY”? …and “bee-ZAY” as the joke or non-naughty pronunciation? I’ll try it in IPA symbols. /baːˈzaː/; /biːˈzaː/.
    I can’t really say how they talk in France. The only time I was in France I learned how to say “ham sandwich” in French and that’s what I ate the whole time I was there.

  40. I seem to remember that in medieval times the Basques used to dominate the Atlantic ocean as far as the codfish trade. Maybe it’s in “The Basque History of the World”–you’re supposed to be able to read it on line here:
    but only from certain countries–I can’t read it.

  41. John Emerson says

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this thread, which I can’t contribute to but can pretty much understand. The previous several Mandelstam threads I understood much less, but also enjoyed and admired. So another salute to Mr. Hat is in order. Where else can you have conversations like this?

  42. Not sure about what the backwards accent means. I think maybe “bay-ZAY”?
    No, that’s the forwards accent. The anglicized pronunciations would be bézé “bay-ZAY”; bèzé (the standard French pronunciation) “beh-ZAY.”

  43. marie-lucie says

    LH” bèzé (the standard French pronunciation)
    I don’t think that is standard any more (I mentioned several times that “standard” pronunciation has changed in my lifetime and is not what it used to be). It sounds very old-fashioned or regional to me.

  44. marie-lucie says

    Nijma: “bee-ZAY” as the joke or non-naughty pronunciation?
    I am not aware of this pronunciation being a joke: the verb biser is a dialectal variant of baiser with the sole meaning ‘to kiss’. The corresponding noun is la bise ‘the kiss’ (on the cheeks).

  45. Pete: Where else can you have conversations like this?
    Well — and certainly as a both/and, and not an either/or — try here.

  46. Marie-Lucie: Your mention of sarcher as a dialectal form of chercher promptly sent me to the OED3 under search. Apparently the Old French form was cerchier, regularly from Latin circare, to go about in circles. (A thing which I often do when searching — I’m hopelessly bad at finding things, and wind up retracing my steps repeatedly.)
    So it is really the initial ch of the standard language which wants explaining. Is it a mere anticipation of the medial ch, or is some sort of sound-symbolism perhaps involved?

  47. I don’t think that is standard any more
    Ah, well, I learned my French almost a half-century ago…
    I am not aware of this pronunciation being a joke
    I don’t think Nijma was referring to the verb biser, since she doesn’t know French; she was merely guessing as to what the accents might mean.

  48. marie-lucie says

    JC: You are right that the “standard” form is not the one directly descended from the original. I am not sure what the cause of the change is considered to be (perhaps Etienne would know) but according to the TLFI the ch- form is first attested in writing in the 16th century (while the c- form is many centuries older). By that time, OF ch pronounced as in English had long been simplified to the equivalent of sh. Forms in c- or s- and in ch- are used in the 16th and 17th centuries, and chercher wins out in the standard language after that, although s- forms remain in some dialects.
    In the 17th century – in which the Académie Française was established – there were efforts at language standardization among writers and intellectuals, as many were coming to Paris from various provinces with different dialectal forms. Sometimes the Parisian form won out (that is probably what happened here), sometimes a dialectal one. I think that Parisian forms tended to win out if they were used by all classes, but some features of lower-class Parisian speech remained stigmatized for a long time, although often winning out in the end.

  49. marie-lucie says

    Nijma, is it worth explaining what the “joke” was about?
    JC: p.s. Fluctuation between initial c- ([ts] in OF, later [s]) and ch- is attested in other instances also, eg Fr cerise, Eng cherries (the singular cherry is a back-formation when the s in the French word was interpreted as a plural suffix). In France there are place-names based on this word, such as Cerisé in Normandy but Cherisy, Chérisy or Chérizy in other Northern French areas.

  50. m-l Is it worth explaining what the “joke” was about?
    I think Nij was just repeating what Siganus Sutor said, above her comment: Someone saying “bèzé” would be making a joke, or poking fun at somebody. He doesn’t say who would be likely to make it.

  51. Siganus Sutor says

    Yes AJP, I was the one who started to talk of a possible joke. It’s just that someone saying “bèzé” (beh-zay) would do it just to sound pedantic, either against somebody in particular, or generally. I wasn’t quite sure that baisé, for instance, wouldn’t be pronounced “bèzé” in France. (Marie-Lucie, I’m sure I’ve heard some not-so-old Frenchmen pronounce lait [lε] and not [le].)
    Steve, Petit Robert (2006) writes this:
    baise [bεz]
    baise-en-ville [bεzãvil]
    baisemain [bεzmɛ̃]
    baiser [beze]
    and this is the way I would pronounce all this.
    However, he writes that:
    baiseur [bεzœR]
    baisodrome [bεzodRom]
    which I would pronounce [be…] in both cases. This may be due to the (bad) influence of the planet Mars, though.

  52. So if I wanted to swear in Martian (under my breath, of course) I would say bay-ZAY.
    Now according to Sig, baisé means merde, or “shit”, but when I plug this into Google Translate, it says “fucked”. And FoxLingo says it means “kissed”. InterTran also comes up with “kiss” (and so does m-l). So is this “kiss” thing just being used as a euphemism for copulation, or is baisé really scatological on Mars? Or maybe by now it has lost all meaning and is just a generic swear word.

  53. Siganus Sutor says

    No, no, Nijma, baisé doesn’t mean shit. It is just that when a Frenchman would say “merde” (for instance when the thing he’d been doing failed) a Mauritian could say “baisé”.
    If you have listened to Stephen Dodson talking about his dirty book, you should have heard that in some languages swear words tend to be scatological in nature whereas in other languages they often have a sexual twist. We must be real mongrels, because we have both. In the example mentioned above, a Mauritian could very well shout “caca !” too. (But usually sex is the primus inter pares.)

  54. Siganus Sutor says

    Marie-Lucie, your scenario looks convincing. But I don’t quite understand how the Portugese fit in. Why would they be required?
    It is true, however, that a certain number of words in our local brand of French come from Portugese (margoze, argamasse, vindaye maybe.)

  55. The Trésor de la Langue Française Informatisé gives us the etymology, but passes entirely silently over the motivations for the change in the first consonant:

    « L’a. fr. cerchier est issu du b. lat. circare dér. du b. lat. circa, circum « autour » « faire le tour, parcourir pour examiner » (IVe s. ds TLL s.v., 1102, 2), d’où le lat. médiév. « fouiller, scruter » (IX-XIe s. ds Mittellat. W. s.v., 593, 5); chercher plus expressif et de conjugaison plus aisée, a supplanté querre, quérir* au XVIIe s. sauf dans quelques emplois dialectaux. »

    Apparently both Molière and Racine used the etymologically expected form in their work.

  56. Don’t mean to be a broken record, but check this tiny thread.

  57. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: I’m sure I’ve heard some not-so-old Frenchmen pronounce lait [lε] and not [le].
    This is the way I say it too, but when the vowel is not in the final syllable it tends to be [e] not [ε] (in fact, it can be an intermediate sound). I pronounce the various words basically like the Petit Robert says.
    I don’t quite understand how the Portugese fit in. Why would they be required?
    They are not “required”, but one of the sources suggested a possible Portuguese origin although there is apparently no such word in Portuguese. But since both Basque and Portuguese crews were fishing off Newfoundland (as well as French and English ones), a connection would be likely. Also, the Portuguese travelled the world much more than the Basques, so they were more likely to have transmitted the word outside of the Canadian context. On the other hand, if the word is completely unattested in Portuguese, that language was perhaps not implicated in the transmission and a direct Basque to French loanword is more likely.

  58. marie-lucie says

    AK: (c(h)ercher) Apparently both Molière and Racine used the etymologically expected form in their work.
    It’s quite possible, but modern editions usually standardize the spelling of earlier authors (like editions of Shakespeare and other works in English). As I mentioned earlier, the TLFI examples for the 16th and 17th centuries show that both forms were used, without a suggestion that one was considered better than the others.

  59. [I]n some languages swear words tend to be scatological in nature whereas in other languages they often have a sexual twist
    In Europe, these tends to be typical of Protestant and Catholic nations respectively. Of course, in Quebec the swears are religious in nature as well as both of the others –“Hostie de tabernac de calisse de marde d’enculé de ta mère!”. So it’s not surprising that with both French and British overlays you Martians have both kinds of swears.

  60. Oh, I am sorry marie-lucie, you did say exactly that. I am not taking the time to read the site that I should be, which is good in one sense, I don’t have the time, and bad in another, I usually leave here with positive feelings about the species.

  61. marie-lucie says

    AK, no problem, I was going to say “we all do that” but some readers are more careful (or have more time on their hands) than others.

  62. Siganus Sutor says

    John, there hasn’t really been a British overlay here. We don’t even know what cricket is. Given that the Brits have been here for more than 150 years it is quite amazing how unBritish we are and how bad we speak English.
    Don’t they say “tabarnak” in Quebec? I still remember “Chris de calvaire sale”. But I wonder if young Québécois still swear like that. I believe the Catholic Church barely has an influence at all nowadays, no?

  63. Siganus Sutor says

    Marie-Lucie: Portuguese
    I had a doubt about this second -u in Portuguese and I should have checked in the dictionary. In French it is an absolute rule, I think, that before -e and -i the letter g- is pronounced j-, but I wasn’t sure it was exactly the same in English — and I still am not. Okay, “age”, “page”, “imagination”, “pigeon” are all with a soft g-. But don’t you have some cases where you have a hard g- before an -e?
    This is one of the problems with the spelling that has been chosen for Creole: the letter g- is supposed to be a hard [g] even in front of -e and -i. The verb “larguer” is supposed to be written large. Since everyone is very much used to read French, this is something that confuses a lot of people, and I note that most people writing Creole would write it exactly like in French. (There is also the problem of the -é sound, which is supposed to be written -e according to “Grafi Larmoni”, a rule that is not very well followed for obvious reasons — but that’s another problem.)
    This choice makes sense. After all why should you have two phonemes for a single letter? (This is why the letter c- is not supposed to be used in Creole, where you would have only k- and s-.) But some habits and ways of identifying signs are so ingrained in us that it is usually hard to overtake them.

  64. [I]n some languages swear words tend to be scatological in nature whereas in other languages they often have a sexual twist
    I think someone pointed out on another thread that what you swear by might be an indication of what you consider (or don’t consider) to be sacred.
    The Dodson book–surely that can’t be called “dirty”. It might have an adult subject but I’m sure the subject is treated with all scholarly properness and that none of Hat’s no doubt educated, erudite, and respectable readers need fear reading it.

  65. John Emerson says

    We should pray for a Catholic revival to keep the sacred curses of the Mother Church alive in a world of creeping secularism and unbelief. I imagine an elderly nun bursting into tears of joy when, for the first time in decades, \ she hears the properly Catholic curses of her own childhood emanating from the primary school playground for the first time in decades.
    I used to have a book about Portuguese and Dutch traces in Afrikaans and in various other languages of Africa and the Indian Ocean. Alas, it has disappeared.

  66. Nij: It might have an adult subject
    I never noticed swearing to be confined to adults. Did you, Nij?

  67. JC: In Europe, these tend to be typical of Protestant and Catholic nations respectively.
    Fuck? Merde?

  68. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: these problems with the Creole spelling you mention are similar to those with the modern spelling of Occitan: in places where speakers are literate in the (culturally) dominant language, that fact has to be taken into account when setting up a spelling system for a yet unwritten or inconsistently written language, otherwise the switch between the two creates problems. If these difficulties are real even for a person used to different languages and trained in phonetic transcription, things will probably be even harder for semiliterate persons. Learning a new symbol for a sound that does not exist in the dominant language is not usually a problem, as there is no confusion. But having to unlearn long-standing habits, or, for children, two systems which contradict each other, is much more problematic. The “one phoneme, one symbol” is OK for phonetic transcription but digraphs (as in ch) are not an obstacle to literacy as long as they are used consistently.

  69. Siganus: There is no hard and fast rule: get and give have [g]. Some words use gu or gh to indicate [g], but it’s not reliable. On the other hand, there is margarine, which in North America has [dZ] — before a!

  70. Siganus Sutor says

    Mardzarin? It’s almost as funny as Mazarine!
    But you write nugget, don’t you? Wouldn’t “nuget” be pronounced “nudjet”? It looks as if ge- or gi- could be pronounced [g] at the beginning of words only. (I’m waiting for the example to the contrary to come soon…)
    In French I see the word gecko, which is not very French after all. And I would imagine that most French people would pronounce it “jeko” if they had never heard it said in front of them before.

  71. marie-lucie says

    Siganus, it’s pronounced as if “margerine”, perhaps by analogy with Margery, Marjorie rather than Margaret.
    In native English words (not borrowed from other languages) g is “hard” at the beginning of words, and begin and beget have “hard g” as well in spite of this g not being at the beginning of the word, because the roots are gin (no longer used as a separate word in the standard language) and get, with the old prefix be-. Words like George and Geoffrey were borrowed from Old French and still follow its spelling. Examples of g pronounced “soft” (meaning as [dj]) at the beginning of a word are giraffe, which is ultimately from Arabic as mentioned in an earlier thread, and gibberish, a word which confuses non-native speakers who have only encountered it in writing.
    Doubling the letter as gg usually indicates the “hard g”, as in big, bigger, biggest, biggish. Most exceptions are in foreign words such as Italian arpeggio, but there is also Reggie as a diminutive of Reginald, where the g is pronounced “soft”, not as in Maggie or Peggy which keep the “hard g” of Margaret.

  72. Sig Sutor says

    Marie-Lucie: and gibberish, a word which confuses non-native speakers who have only encountered it in writing.
    So it’s “djiberish”? I didn’t know that! (Well, of course, I’m not a native speaker at all.)
    as long as they are used consistently. [further up]
    That’s the problem. And that was why the previous government put up “Grafi Larmoni”, which was an attempt to standardize the spelling. But even the party that formed that government, the MMM (aka Mouvemement Militant Mauricien), doesn’t follow the rules it has set himself. On posters and banners for instance, you will very often see accents, which are not supposed to be used according to these “rules”.
    Myself, as just one individual, I am not consistent. Sometimes I follow Grafi Larmoni rather closely, but most of the time I’m not. I use accents for instance, just to avoid the confusion with the mute -e. (“Manzé” vs “manz” for instance — “Li pé manzé la” vs “Li pé manz douri”, “manzer” being seemingly and extraordinarily an irregular verb in Creole, something I realised a few days ago only.) But when I am chatting, sometimes I skip the accents because I have to press five different keys — and at least three of them at any time — to get an -é, and it takes too much time for something that is supposed to be fast. So if one person cannot be consistent with himself, you can imagine how bad things can become when you have many different people with many different backgrounds and many different sensibilities and sensitivities.

  73. Nijma: The Basques were fishing all around Newfoundland long before other Europeans. Google Red Bay National Historic Site, which is on the south coast of Labrador, just inside the Strait of Belle Isle.

  74. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: sometimes I skip the accents because I have to press five different keys — and at least three of them at any time — to get an -é
    That seems way too complicated. Are you using a default English keyboard? The French keyboard (AZERTY) and the French-Canadian keyboard (QWERTY with some substitutions) both have shortcuts to the accented letters. The AZERTY keyboard will do for English since the language does not need accents. Someone more familiar than I am with the innards of a computer should know how to gain access to keyboards for various languages.

  75. marie-lucie says

    More Basque: in following iakon’s suggested site (Red Bay, just across from Newfoundland), I find another version of bar(r)achois: Port au Choix (literally apparently “port of the choice” but more likely a reinterpretation of barachoix cited in another source above), which is said to be from Basque (the t at the end of Port is not pronounced in this case, and the o sound corresponds to the older or local pronunciation of a before a double rr). Yet another evidence of the importance of the Basques in the earlier fishery is the name Port aux Basques “port of the Basques” in Newfoundland. Another is the Basque-Mikmaq pidgin which spread along the coast: French explorers were greeted by a few words of Basque from some of the local people they encountered.

  76. Marie-Lucie, I know you translated literally, but could one make it ‘Choice (or Excellent) Harbour’?

  77. marie-lucie says

    iakon: could one make it ‘Choice (or Excellent) Harbour’?
    Probably not, that would be port de choix, but this phrase does not seem right for a place name: if a meaning of this sort was intended it would probably have been conveyed by an adjective, as in Port-Joli, lit. “pretty harbour” in Nova Scotia. There are quite a few examples of Port au(x) … names with various nouns referring to local features of those harbours. Similarly for the hybrid name L’Anse aux meadows (originally L’Anse aux méduses, lit. “jellyfish bay”) where remains of a Viking camp were discovered.

  78. David Marjanović says

    and the two versions of the Basque name may be different transcriptions of the same pronunciation, or represent slightly different dialects.

    No, the final -a is the definite article of Basque. I think it’s a separate syllable (…though it’s so thoroughly fused to the word that the case endings go after it…).

    L’Anse aux meadows (originally L’Anse aux méduses

    <lightbulb above head>

    That seems way too complicated.

    Indeed. On the German keyboard, ´ is a key, and if you use it with Shift, you get `. Even ^ is a key.
    On a completely basic English keyboard, though, there might not be a way without software-specific workarounds.

    On the other hand, there is margarine, which in North America has [dZ] — before a!

    Ah, so it’s only in North America. <phew>


    “dZ” is supposed to mean [dʒ]. (More properly [d͡ʒ], but that probably doesn’t display.)

    Someone more familiar than I am with the innards of a computer should know how to gain access to keyboards for various languages.

    Depends on your operating system.

  79. marie-lucie says

    the final -a is the definite article of Basque. I think it’s a separate syllable
    So that’s why all the words seem to end in -a! Thank you for the explanation. barratxo(a) was the same word all the time.
    margarine: [dʒ] is what I meant when I wrote that the word was pronounced as “margerine”.

  80. Siganus Sutor says

    There are quite a few examples of Port au(x)…
    E.g. Port-aux-Français, the “capital city” of Kerguelen.
    Similarly, you have “l’Anse-aux-Anglais” near Port-Mathurin in Rodrigues.

  81. marie-lucie says

    Siganus, thank you for these nice old-fashioned names. I had forgotten that the English equivalent for anse should be cove rather than bay, so l’anse aux méduses means “jellyfish cove”.
    The map of Kerguelen sent me to Wikipedia. I was only familiar with the name, with a vague recollection that the islands were somewhere in a cold part of the Southern Oceans, where people used to hunt whales. What a God-forsaken place! I was surprised to see so many place names for spots suggestive of villages if not “cities”, or perhaps at least fishing camps, but they are mostly current or abandoned research stations. Any humans stay there only temporarily (there is a church but no school among the described buildings) and the sheep-to-humans ratio seems to dwarf the one in New Zealand. The link with La Réunion was initially surprising too given my very imited knowledge, but understandable now in the larger scheme of things.

  82. David Marjanović says

    What a God-forsaken place!

    And to think that 30 million years ago it was a southern-beech forest like Chiloé.

  83. Siganus Sutor says

    Marie-Lucie, Kron might enjoy the fact that next to Port-aux-Français there is a gulf called “Baie Norvégienne”. I don’t think it has anything to do with a Norwegian berry though. Did you find out what was the goat/human ratio on Kerguelen Islands, just to see if would be worth for him and his family to migrate there?
    In Reunion there is “Grand Anse”, without the final and feminine -e at Grand, just like we have “Grand Baie” here in the North. These old people were terrible machists indeed. They went as far as making feminine words become masculine.

  84. Siganus Sutor says

    PS: Not too far from Grand Baie there is also a place called “Grand Gaube”. I vaguely remember that together with “golfe”, “baie” or “anse” gaube was another kind of place where the sea came inside the land, but I’m not sure about that and I have no clue about whether this word is still in use in “normal” French.

  85. Siganus Sutor says

    Marie-Lucie, in Le Mauricien:

    Le mot “gaube” signifie crique ou échancrure de la côte. Une autre explication du nom Grand-Gaube se réfère au terme des “grands gobeurs”. Les marins de Robert Surcouf, lors de leurs séjours sur l’île Bernache entre 1795 et 1808, étaient de gros mangeurs. Les habitants de la région leur envoyaient de bonnes choses qu’ils gobaient pour ne rien perdre.
    The hypothesis about the “big gobblers” seems a little bit “pulled by the hair” to me…

  86. next to Port-aux-Français there is a gulf called “Baie Norvégienne”
    It was the vikings. Did you know the vikings got to the moon? The far side — it’s true, I heard it in Norway.

  87. Siganus Sutor says

    Did you know the vikings got to the moon?
    Yes I did. And that’s why a noticeable impact crater in the moon’s southern hemisphere was named after a Dane who was born* in what is Sweden today.
    * born Tyge Ottesen Brahe

  88. I saw a while ago that Tycho Brahe features On John Emerson’s favourite Wikipedia page, the NOBLE FAMILIES OF SWEDEN.

  89. marie-lucie says

    Siganus, wonderful names.
    Grand in these place names is not masculine: the word was epicene (= used the same form for both genders) in Old French, continuing Latin usage (the explicitly feminine form grande was created later, on the model of most adjectives). That is also the reason for grand-mère ‘grandmother’ (which was never grande mère) and Grand-Rue ‘Main Street’ in old towns. Of course, the Mauricien names do not date from Old French, but they follow a pattern which was probably still current at the time of exploration in the regions where most sailors came from (the French Atlantic coast).
    The word gaube is new to me, but it looks like it could be another form of galbe ‘shapely curve’ (eg of a leg, a pot). The story of the gobbling sailors is a classic example of “folk etymology” (l’étymologie populaire): a story dreamed up to explain a puzzling feature of language, without any proof. Apart from the unlikely nature of the story, perhaps gaube and gobe are pronounced the same in Mauricien, but they are not in current Standard French, so they were not the same in earlier times either.

  90. Siganus Sutor says

    Marie-Lucie, I was just pulling your leg regarding grande having supposedly been masculinized into grand. (There could also be “grand-tante”, no? though I usually hear “grande tante”.) Wasn’t grand-mère written grand’ mère in the past? Some people still write Grand’ Anse for the cove on the south coast of Reunion Island.
    The word gaube remains a mystery somehow. However, once upon a time I went to a lake in the Pyrenees. A beautiful blue lake surrounded by impressive mountains. Its name was “lac de Gaube”. An expert toponymist would probably be needed here. (I know one, but I don’t know if he is available at the moment.)
    Arthur: Did you know the vikings got to the moon?
    They arrived here too, more than three decades ago. Viking 1 and Viking 2.

  91. Vikings are everywhere. Not many people know about them going to the moon, though. They also invented an early form of paperclip made out of granite.

  92. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: regarding grande having supposedly been masculinized into grand. (There could also be “grand-tante”, no?
    Indeed there is, grand-tante ‘great-aunt’ is standard.
    though I usually hear “grande tante”.)
    You hear it from people who regularize the word under the impression that grand in this case is masculine.
    Wasn’t grand-mère written grand’ mère in the past?
    Yes, grand’mère (without a space) was what I learned to write as a child, because it was supposed that grand here came from the loss of the e in grande, which is not the case historically. If you read Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), the grandmother is referred to by the alternate form mère-grand.
    Some people still write Grand’ Anse for the cove on the south coast of Reunion Island.
    Is the word pronounced with a [d] or a [t] sound? if a [d], then the name was attributed at a time where the adjective had the feminine form grande (most likely given the time of naming) and the apostrophe represents the missing e (which there is no need to omit in writing), while [t] would represent an older pronunciation perhaps imported from a similar, much older name existing on the French coast, something which is less likely ([t] rather than [d] is still pronounced in masculine forms before a vowel, for instance grand-oncle ‘great-uncle’ or grand appétit ‘big appetite’).
    The word gaube remains a mystery somehow. However, once upon a time I went to a lake in the Pyrenees… . Its name was “lac de Gaube”.
    In the Pyrénées (except close to the Mediterranean), the word is likely to be either from Gascon or from Basque (or from Basque through Gascon). Perhaps a dictionary of local names would give an explanation. It is hard to say whether it would have anything to do with your gaube,but maritime vocabulary tends to be different from that of the mainland.

  93. gibberish
    The OED says that both [dʒ]ibberish and [g]ibberish are in use, and likewise [dʒ]ibber and [g]ibber, though I have only heard the former myself in either case. NID3 agrees; lists both pronunciations for gibber but only [g] for gibberish; AHD4 lists only [g] in both words.
    The OED also says that the two pronunciations of gibber are probably “originally independent words of parallel formation, not merely divergent interpretations of the written form”. Similarly, English has both jabber and the now-obsolete gabber. All these words are onomatopoeic.

  94. marie-lucie says

    JC: As a second language learner I did not know that gibberish (that I had read but never heard) did not have initial [g] until I heard a bilingual South American say it with [g] and be corrected. Since then I have only heard the [dʒ] pronunciation, always in North America.

  95. lists both pronunciations for gibber but only [g] for gibberish; AHD4 lists only [g] in both words.
    Did you get mixed up? This is the reverse of the truth; (assuming that’s what you meant by “”) lists both but j- first, and AHD only has j-.

  96. Siganus Sutor says

    Curiosity can’t kill a Martian, so I grabbed the Collins to see what their opinion was regarding the pronunciation of gibberish. For them there is just one way (which tells me that I was wrong): [dʒibəriʃ], i.e. pronounced like Gibraltar.
    In fact there are several words I would have pronounced this way but which turn out to be pronounced the other way round: “gibbous” and “gibbosity” (when the moon is no more a crescent, pronounced “jibœz” in French), “Gilgamesh”, “Gideon”, “Gehenna”, “GIF” (the animated JPEG), “Geiger counter”, “Gettysburg”, “gibbon”, all with a hard [g] whereas I would naturally tend to use [dʒ]. So many pitfalls to fall in… It makes you dizzy.
    Oh, another rare hard initial g- used while speaking French: Gestapo!
    Marie-Lucie, the other day I also thought of “grand-place” (“la grand-place du village”).
    Is the word [Grand’ Anse] pronounced with a [d] or a [t] sound?
    I’m not sure, but it seems to me that both are used. I’d say that some (a lot of?) Reunionese might pronounce it [t]. But I’m dead sure Grand-Îlet is pronounced “grantilette”.

  97. Siganus Sutor says

    But I’m dead sure Grand-Îlet is pronounced “grantilette”.
    Ah, I just realised that grand has a [t] sound in front of all masculine words beginning with a vowel: “un grand arbre”, “un grand homme”, “un grand esthète”, “mon grand ami”, etc. And since “îlet” is masculine…

  98. Hat: Thanks for catching my error there.
    Siganus: It’s not surprising that the proper nouns in your list have /g/, since they were borrowed as-is from languages that lack any stop-fricative alternation. As for gibbous and gibbon, some 63% of words in gi- have [g], as opposed to only 13% of words in ge- and 38% of words in gy-. I should really look at lexemes rather than words, but I don’t have a pronounciation dictionary of lexemes.
    GIF is pronounced both ways, but techies (who originated the term) use /g/.

  99. marie-lucie says

    Siganus: Grand-Îlet is pronounced “grantilette”
    The first t is from the old masculine version of the adjective as you said, and the final t is from the archaic pronunciation of final consonants in Western France, more specifically the Vendée-Poitou area (on or near the French Atlantic coast). This pronunciation has left many traces in Canada and also in some of the French-speaking islands in hotter climates.
    Gestapo in French with a [g] sound: this word is German and kept its German pronunciation and spelling. The Gestapo inspired terror in the German-occupied zone during the Vichy regime and the word was known to every French person as everyone was at risk of falling into the clutches of the Gestapo.

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