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Foreign Expressions


picture of foreign languages

Since I am a foreign language teacher, I am frequently asked what certain expressions mean in English. Back in the mid-1990's a magazine (I've seen the following attributed to several, so I'll refrain from naming the magazine) had a contest based on expressions in foreign languages. The instructions were to take a well-known expression in a foreign language, change a single letter, and provide a definition for the new expression.

Here are some of the ones submitted to that contest:

HARLEZ-VOUS FRANÇAIS?
Can you drive a French motorcycle?

IDIOS AMIGOS
We're wild and crazy guys!

VENI, VIPI, VICI
I came, I'm a very important person, I conquered.

COGITO EGGO SUM
I think; therefore I am a waffle.

RIGOR MORRIS
The cat is dead.

RÉPONDEZ S'IL VOUS PLAID
Honk if you're Scottish.

QUE SERA SERF
Life is feudal.

POSH MORTEM
Death styles of the rich and famous.

PRO BOZO PUBLICO
Support your local clown.

MONAGE A TROIS
I am three years old.

FELIX NAVIDAD
Our cat was born in a boat.

HASTE CUISINE
French fast food

QUIP PRO QUO
A fast retort.

MAZEL TON
Tons of luck.

APRES MOE LE DELUGE
Larry and Curly got wet.

ICH LIEBE RICH
I'm really crazy about having dough.

FUI GENERIS
What's mine is mine.

VISA LA FRANCE (actually two letters were changed in the original Vive...)
Don't leave your château without it.

ÇA VA SANS DIRT
And that's not gossip.

MERCI RIEN
Thanks for nothing!

AMICUS PURIAE
Platonic friend.

L'ÉTAT, C'EST MOO
I'm boss around here.

LE ROI EST MORT. JIVE LE ROI
The king is dead. No kidding.

ALOHA OY
Farewell — from such a pain you should never know.

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I'll end this post with two stories about people's use of foreign expressions, one better than the other.

Mr. Goldberg, from Pinsk, coming to America, shared a table in the ship's dining room with a Frenchman. Mr. Goldberg could speak neither French nor English; the Frenchman could speak neither Russian nor Yiddish.

The first day out, the Frenchman approached the table, bowed and said, "Bon appétit!" Goldberg, puzzled for a moment, bowed back and replied, "Goldberg."

Every day, at every meal, the same routine occurred.

On the fifth day, another passenger took Goldberg aside. "Listen, the Frenchman isn't telling you his name. He's saying ''Good Appetite,'' that's what ''Bon appétit!'' means. He wants you to enjoy your meal."

At the next meal, Mr. Goldberg, beaming, bowed to the Frenchman and said, "Bon appétit!" And the Frenchman, beaming, replied, "Goldberg!"

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Almost everyone has heard of the famous dispatch of Julius Caesar, "Veni, vidi, vici" — "I came, I saw, I conquered." That ranked as history's greatest military message until 1843.

In 1843 the British general Sir Charles James Napier set out with a small force to capture Sindh, in modern Pakistan. Back in Delhi the commanding officer waited anxiously for news — "Does Napier have Sindh?"

Finally the message arrived from the front. The commanding officer tore open the envelope and found a single word: "Peccavi." Naturally because of their days as school boys, the officers at British headquarters recognized this as a past tense form of the Latin verb "pecco", meaning "I sin." In other words, "I have Sindh."

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Do you ever use foreign expressions, just to add a little je ne sais quoi to your conversations or correspondence?

quotation...

"Our purpose in this world is to pass on to others what God has given us." — Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=
Rob

VENI, VIDI, VELCRO
I came, I saw, I stuck around.


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8 Comments on “Foreign Expressions”

  1. #1 Michael
    on Jun 23rd, 2011 at 8:26 am

    I can’t think of any expressions I use regularly but a post like this reminds me how arrogant we Americans often are when it comes to language. We insist that people who come to our country speak English but then we do the same when we are traveling to other lands.

  2. #2 Bethany Phillips
    on Jun 23rd, 2011 at 9:17 am

    This post makes me miss French class with you and Dr. Byers. You both made something—that was a challenge for me—fun. :) My favorite one by far, though, is definitely “RIGOR MORRIS: The cat is dead” because y’all would always crack jokes about cats!

  3. #3 Jonathan
    on Jun 23rd, 2011 at 10:11 am

    ‘veni vidi vamoose!’ a quote from a lesser known Roman General

  4. #4 Sam
    on Jun 23rd, 2011 at 11:41 am

    My Latin is a little rustic(!), but should not the last be Veni Vidi Velcro? Seems like yours would have been “I came, I conquered, I stuck around.”

  5. #5 Rob
    on Jun 23rd, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    @Michael – Americans certainly do have that reputation.

    @Bethany – The cat jokes are mainly from Dr. Byers. BTW, he makes a big fuss over our cats at our house. :-D

    @Jonathan – Lesser known for good reasons.

    @Sam – Thanks! Not quite sure how that happened. Probably comes from putting together a blog post before breakfast. Anyway I fixed what you pointed out in the blog post but can’t retract the 800+ e-mails.

  6. #6 Johanna
    on Jun 23rd, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    I tend to say “keine Ahnung” when I’m stumped. Those around me don’t have a clue what I’m saying either. :)

  7. #7 Carrie
    on Jun 24th, 2011 at 12:51 am

    This is one of my all-time favorites of your posts! The story of the polite gentlemen who didn’t understand each other really tickled me. :)

  8. #8 Tammy
    on Jun 29th, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    I would say Americans want people to speak English when they live in our country! That is pretty much why ESL /ELL is a big thing to teach in all of the schools!

    We are lucky when we lived in Iceland. Since the Icelandic language is very hard to learn it was an easy country to get around. Signs were in English most of the time.


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