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Adieu mademoiselle, bonjour madame!

On February 22, 2012, the French Prime Minister François Fillon declared that the word mademoiselle, the French equivalent of "Miss," has been banned from use in official French documents. Many years ago English-speaking countries adopted Ms. to replace both Mrs. and Miss. Germany dropped Fräulein and uses just Frau for all women. French feminists viewed two titles for women as a form of discrimination, pointing out that there is no "mondemoiseau" denoting the single marital status of males.

In a country where linguistic change comes extremely slowly, thanks to the Académie Française — the official French language police that dates all the way back to 1635 — this change is huge! For the time being, it is only on an official, administrative level, but surely the shift will trickle down over time. Here's an example of the three categories of marital status on a non-governmental form.

In an online video I viewed, the reactions of French women are mixed. Some welcome the change, saying that though the time for doing away with mademoiselle is long since overdue, they would much rather have equal pay for the same jobs held by men. However other women and girls have different takes on it. A little girl said she does not want to be called madame. An older woman (une femme d'un certain âge) said, giggling, that she would love to have a man call her mademoiselle. I LOL'd when I saw her say that, knowing the French love for flirting, what they call "le flirt." (I wonder who borrowed from whom....)

I have to say that what English speakers did in creating Ms., which was basically a totally new title, makes more sense than what both Germany and France have done. Those two countries have thrown out the title that designates either youthfulness or singleness, using instead the title that has always signaled that the woman is married — Frau and Madame. It's easy to understand the negative reactions of some females to this change, as mentioned above.

One summer I was in France I remember the huge buzz there was about talk of outlawing three English expressions and making up three French expressions to replace them. Instead of le chewing gum they were going to insist people use la pâte à mâcher (paste for chewing), for le cowboy le vaché (a masculine variant of the French word for cow, la vache), and most ridiculously for le t-shirt the French would have had to use une chemise en forme de t (a shirt if the form of a t). Just rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?! Vive l'Académie Française! The French people went ballistic about how stupid it all was, refusing to make such changes in their speech, and the changes were never officially made. We'll see how this Madame thing plays out in everyday life. Vive la révolution!

Here's something from one of the French feminist sites on the subject:

Mademoiselle, la case en trop basically means "Miss, one box too many." That little slogan made me think of a very common French expression — Il lui manque une case. = He's missing a box. That's the French way of saying "He's one brick short of a load." I think every language must have humorous ways of saying someone is a little off. The Germans have the expression Er hat nicht alle Tassen im Schrank (He doesn't have all the cups in the cupboard).

I found a list in my files of other, sometimes gentler ways we English speakers have of saying the same thing. I post it today for your enjoyment.

Other ways of saying "one brick short of a load"

A few clowns short of a circus.

A few feathers short of a whole duck.

A few fries short of a Happy Meal.

A few peas short of a casserole.

A photographic memory, but the lens cover is glued on.

A room temperature IQ.

An experiment in Artificial Stupidity.

An intellect rivaled only by garden tools.

As smart as bait.

Body by Fisher, brains by Mattel.

Bright as Alaska in December.

Chimney's clogged.

Doesn't have all his corn flakes in one box.

Doesn't have all his dogs on one leash.

Doesn't know much, but leads the league in nostril hair.

Elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor.

Fell out of the family tree.

Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn't coming.

Got a full 6-pack, but lacks the plastic thingy to hold them together.

Got into the gene pool while the lifeguard wasn't watching.

Half a bubble off plumb. (for my carpenter readers out there)

Has two brains; one is lost and the other is out looking for it.

He's missing a microchip.

He's so dense, light bends around him.

He thinks you make nets by tying holes together.

Her sewing machine's out of thread.

His antenna doesn't pick up all the channels.

His banjo's missing a string.

His belt doesn't go through all the loops.

His flag doesn't go all the way to the top.

His guitar doesn't play a full chord.

His Slinky's kinked.

If brains were taxed, he'd get a rebate.

If he had another brain, it would be lonely.

If you give him a penny for his thoughts, you get change back.

If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean.

In the pinball game of life, his flippers were a little further apart than most.

Missing a few buttons on his remote control.

No grain in the silo.

Not playing Rook with a full deck.

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

One card short of a full deck. OR He's not playing with a full deck.

One Fruit Loop shy of a full bowl.

One neuron short of a synapse.

One quart shy of full.

One taco short of a combination plate.

Receiver is off the hook. (young people won't understand this one in the near future)

Skylight leaks a little.

Some drink from the fountain of knowledge, but he just gargled.

Surfing in Nebraska.

Takes him an hour and a half to watch "60 Minutes."

The cheese slid off his cracker.

The lights are on, but nobody's home.

The wheel's spinning, but the hamster's dead.

Too much yardage between the goal posts.


Do you have a favorite not in my list? Please share it with us.


"Character of steel is forged on the anvil of hardship." – Brad Lapiska

=^..^= =^..^=

Photography is the only hobby where we can shoot people and cut off their heads, legally.

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15 Comments on “Adieu mademoiselle, bonjour madame!”

  1. #1 Ray
    on Feb 29th, 2012 at 7:37 am

    A few classics:

    The elevator doesn’t reach the top floor.

    The light’s on, but nobody’s home.

    Both oars aren’t in the water.

    Not the brightest light in the harbor.

  2. #2 Elizabeth
    on Feb 29th, 2012 at 8:45 am

    My initial reaction was that I am going to start saying “He doesn’t have all the cups in the cupboard.” But as I continued reading, I changed my mind. “One spice short of a secret blend” is the best one on that list!

  3. #3 Vikki
    on Feb 29th, 2012 at 8:58 am

    I hated it when Ms. came into popularity here, but for the government to insist on it?!?

    One of my favorite saying is “He doesn’t have both oars in the water’.

  4. #4 Crawford Wiley
    on Feb 29th, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I’m sure there are many ramifications of this for the French people, but I can’t help thinking of it as a bit of a social help, since the French also use Monsieur, Madame, and Mademoiselle in the same way that we use “Sir” and “Ma’am”. This increases usage tremendously, I would think, and for beginning French students not yet versed in French culture, it’s a bit of a panic moment to figure out whether the lady at the cash register is a “Madame” or a “Mademoiselle”, since in English we’d simply call her “Ma’am”. (I opted for Madame, incidentally, and she didn’t smack me.)

  5. #5 Sam Schnaiter
    on Feb 29th, 2012 at 10:29 am

    How about, “Only one oar in the water.”

  6. #6 Eric
    on Feb 29th, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Great post! Infotaining, as always. Language is messy enough without government involvement. HA!

    As for the list: I sometimes enjoy a little irony by intentionally messing up the insult: Not the sharpest bulb in the crayon box; A few bricks short of a happy meal; His hamster doesn’t go all the way to the top floor; etc.

  7. #7 Robin
    on Feb 29th, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    As someone who works with a database of names ALL DAY, I would like to say that I LOVE the title Ms. It covers so much and makes my job so much easier. This is one “Mrs.” who doesn’t mind being called “Ms. ” at all. Of course, I may just be one spice short…….

  8. #8 Carrie
    on Feb 29th, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    My favorite: One spice short of a secret blend. I had forgotten that it was a Mrs. Loach original! (Mrs. not Ms.–I have always disliked that abbreviation.) (But glad it makes Robin’s job easier.)

  9. #9 Uwe
    on Mar 1st, 2012 at 2:47 am

    In German we also use:

    Bei ihm ist eine Schraube locker. (He’s got a screw loose.)
    Er ist nicht ganz dicht. (He’s barely leakproof.)
    Er hat sie nicht alle. (He’s got not all of them.)

    [I hope I’m translating correctly as to me I’ve got not all of english expressions …]

    By the way we in Germany use more and more “junge Frau” (young woman) in place of formerly “Fräulein”. As to me it is de facto the same.

  10. #10 Uwe
    on Mar 1st, 2012 at 2:51 am

    One more comes to my mind:

    Wie bekommt man sein Gehirn auf Erbsengröße? Aufblasen! (How do you get his brain to the size of a pea? Blow it up!)

  11. #11 Jon Bell
    on Mar 1st, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    One of my favorites to use is an old one from Johnny Carson: “His blender doesn’t go all the way to purée!”

  12. #12 Bruce
    on Mar 1st, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Some that I’ve used before:

    Bright as a 3 watt bulb
    No frosting on his cupcake
    No cheese on his sandwich
    If brains were dynamite, he couldn’t blow his nose

    Enjoyed the list and will use to expand my vocabulary.

  13. #13 Don Johnson
    on Mar 2nd, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Hi Rob

    What struck me in your post was the revelation that the French have language police. I thought that was an “only in Quebec” thing. I wonder if this exists in other countries, or is it just the French who are insecure about their language?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  14. #14 Tim
    on Mar 3rd, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    In Germany, there is also another expression: “Neben der Kappe.” or “Not with it.”

  15. #15 A.H.
    on Mar 6th, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    My favorite comes from a girl who stayed in my room earlier this semester: “Not the brightest star in the sky.”