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Posts Tagged ‘French’

Mangled English

picture of exit sign

Yesterday was the first day of classes on campus. I enjoyed seeing my old students as well as meeting my new students. For some first-time language students, the thought of learning a new language is quite daunting. It's not always easy to express yourself well in another language, and opportunities for embarrassment from saying something wrong abound, like the EXIT sign on the right seen in a Hispanic country.

To encourage my students fairly early on, I tell them about the first time I went to France in the summer of 1972, between my junior and senior year of college. I wanted to visit some of my relatives there with whom I had corresponded often, but whom I had never met. In those days we were limited to writing letters — air mail would get a letter across the ocean in less than a week! For students used to texting and e-mail, that part of my story makes history come alive — they could show off their teacher on Antiques Roadshow! Anyway, I wrote to my cousins, trying to find out if I was invited to stay in their home without making them feel obligated. I told them that I could stay in an inexpensive hotel nearby or that I would be willing to sleep on the floor. They wrote back and offered me a place to stay. Phew!

Several days after my arrival, once we all knew each other better and discovered that we shared the same sense of humor, they pulled out my letter and asked me something they had been dying to ask, but hadn't, for fear of offending me. They said (in French, of course), "We know that you Americans are really special, but how did you intend to sleep up there?" (looking and pointing up) At first I thought they meant in their upstairs. But then they showed me my letter. I had written in French that I would be willing to sleep on the plafond (ceiling). I should have written plancher (floor). My being able to laugh at myself served only to endear me to my family there.

Today's iv is a list of some items found on menus and of some products available around the world, all of which have unfortunate names or descriptions that may not be so endearing.

Bizarre Menu Items

The following are actual menu items in which people have made incorrect use of English words and created some rather bizarre dishes:

Beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion (Poland)

Boiled frogfish (Europe)

Buttered saucepans and fried hormones (Japan)

Cold shredded children and sea blubber in spicy sauce (China)

Dreaded veal cutlet with potatoes in cream (China)

French Creeps (L.A., where I'll bet they meant crêpes)

French fried ships (Cairo)

Fried fishermen (Japan)

Fried friendship (Nepal)

Garlic Coffee (Europe)

Goose Barnacles (Spain)

Indonesian Nazi Goreng (Hong Kong)

Muscles Of Marines/Lobster Thermos (Cairo)

Pork with fresh garbage (Vietnam)

Rainbow Trout, Fillet Streak, Popotoes, Chocolate Mouse (Hong Kong)

Roasted duck let loose (Poland)

Sôle Bonne Femme (Fish Landlady style) (Europe)

Sweat from the trolley (Europe)

Teppan Yaki, Before Your Cooked Right Eyes (Japan)

Toes with butter and jam (Bali)

picture of divider

The sign below has an interesting list of the rules in one Asian restaurant.

picture of restaurant sign

Strange Product Names

Sometimes words that are innocent enough in one language can mean something quite different in another language. Would you English speakers like to buy the detergent pictured below?

picture of detergent box

Barf is the Farsi word for "snow." Somehow it's hard to imagine having snow-white, sweet-smelling clothes after you wash them in a detergent with that name!

Here are the unfortunate names of some other products from around the world.

Cat Wetty - Japanese moistened hand towels

Clean Finger Nail - Chinese tissues

Colon Plus - Spanish detergent

Crundy - Japanese gourmet candy

I'm Dripper - Japanese instant coffee

Kolic - Japanese mineral water

My Fanny - Japanese toilet paper

Pipi - Yugoslavian orangeade

Polio - Czechoslovakian laundry detergent

Shocking - Japanese chewing gum

Swine - Chinese chocolates

Zit - Greek soft drink

picture of divider

Are you eager to try any of those items? Do you have a personal experience of miscommunicating in another language?


"The wise teacher knows that fifty-five minutes of work plus five minutes of laughter are worth twice as much as sixty minutes of unvaried work." - paraphrased from Gilbert Highet

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

If you can't laugh at yourself, you may be missing some of the best comedy available.

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Unhelpful Road Signs

picture of unhelpful road sign

Don't you usually expect road signs to be helpful? Yet how often do you see signs along the highway or in town that might as well not be there? One thing I have noticed about our part of the country is that, when you are driving on the highway, you are expected to remember the last sign you saw because, at the point you'll need the information (the exit), there's no sign to help you! For instance, you see a sign telling that the next exit on the highway is for Hwy SC 253, but when you get to the exit, the only thing on that sign is the exit number. If you didn't happen to notice and/or remember the sign a mile or so back, you would have no idea where this exit will take you.

I have driven quite a bit in France, and let me tell you, it's different! French drivers are ... shall I say ... intrepid? And some of the traffic laws are different. For instance there are many intersections with no stop signs or traffic lights. In that case, the person to your right has the right of way (priorité). Many of the road signs are what I call "International Illiterate Signs." Below are some that you might see in Europe (the home of the first road signs). Of course, the actual signs would be minus the words under them.

picture of European road signs

Many of those signs are easily understandable, but there are some that leave me wondering.

Worse yet in France are the signs Toutes Directions (all directions) and Autres Directions (other directions). Here's an example:

picture of helpful road sign

I may have missed the logic here, but it seems to me that if the sign Toutes Directions is indicating all directions, how can there even be other directions???

Below is a place in France that leaves you wondering why there isn't a "helpful" Toutes Directions sign pointing to the left.

picture of an overabundance of helpful road signs in France

Maybe that is their means of keeping down the speed of the drivers as they must go slowly enough to find the sign they need.

Our German friends Uwe and Diana are leaving Friday morning to do some sightseeing for a week in Atlanta, Savannah, and Charleston. Here's a picture of them this evening, with "Ivman Central" in the background....

picture of Uwe and Diana

They, of course, are used to the wordless signs in Germany, and so if they see any, they will know what to do. They even have a GPS in their rental vehicle here to help them get around. But I hope they don't run across any signs like the ones below in which the words will cause more confusion than help.

picture of helpful road sign

picture of helpful road sign

picture of helpful road sign

Maybe their GPS will help them in situations like the ones below.

picture of helpful road sign

picture of helpful road sign

picture of helpful road sign

I'm sure some of you have funny experiences of driving in another country or of having to decipher unhelpful road signs. Please share them with us!


"Praising God is not closing your eyes to reality. It's lifting your eyes to reality." - Dr. Drew Conley

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

The road to success always seems to be under construction.

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The English Language Is Crazy!

picture of languages

Have you ever studied a foreign language? If so, you have probably encountered enough vocabulary items or idiomatic expressions to know that there are things about a language that are inexplicable to speakers of other languages. If you are an English speaker who hasn't studied another language, then imagine trying to explain some English expressions to foreigners learning English. For instance, if you were to tell someone, "keep your nose to the grindstone," how would you explain that you mean that you want the person to keep working hard, and not to do an activity that would be not only stupid and unnatural, but also extremely painful and messy?

Being a French professor, former German professor, and having studied a little Spanish and Chinese, I have done my share of trying to understand some basic idiomatic expressions for myself and of trying to get others to understand them. As hard as it is sometimes to get my French students to accept and use certain idioms in French, I must say that the two summers my wife and I taught English in China were far more difficult. The differences between our cultures and our languages are so great that the gap is hard enough to bridge already. But then compounding that with the hundreds of inexplicable things in the English language makes the task all the more daunting!

Below is something I've pieced together, using various things in my files. You English speakers (anglophones) out there need to read the following with an eye towards being the one who has to explain all this to non-anglophones.

The English Language Is Crazy!

If we English speakers thought about it, we would have to admit that English is a crazy language. The reasons for that statement are almost endless. There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger, and neither apple nor pine in pineapple. A mushroom is not a room where we eat mush. English muffins weren't invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

We simply take English for granted. Yet if we explored its paradoxes, we would find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? No. Just as we can have one mouse, two mice and one louse, two lice, but not one house, two hice. Crazy!

Doesn't it seem odd that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If a teacher has taught, has a preacher praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue? And try to explain verbs like sing, sang, sung, ring, rang, rung, but not bring, brang, brung. Or better yet sink, sank, sunk, drink, drank, drunk, but not think, thank, thunk?!

Should English speakers all be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane? In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike?

Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Have you ever met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly, or peccable? And where are all those people who *are* spring chickens or who would *actually* hurt a fly?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm clock goes off by going on. And when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up a speech, I end it.

And then English teachers seek to enforce and reinforce all these things! They tell us not to use a double negative in English because a double negative forms a positive. If an English teacher told me there is no language where a double positive can form a negative, my reply would be "Yeah, right!"

In some languages, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. In fact in French, you can have more than two negatives, and it's still just fine. "Personne ne fait jamais rien pour moi" is a perfectly acceptable sentence in French, but an English teacher would insist that the literal translation "No one never does nothing for me" would be better rendered "No one ever does anything for me." I somehow prefer the French on this one since the correction just sounds too positive.

So, do you agree with me that English is a crazy language?


Our German house guests, Uwe and Diana, arrived last evening, and so far we are having a great time together. Diana speaks some English, but Uwe's English is stronger. I can say far more in German than I thought I could, but we've already talked about all kinds of things where my German vocab was either weak or non-existent. Trying to get our ideas across to each other has been challenging, but fun also. I'll give an update in a blog post next week.

I mentioned above that French fries weren't invented in France. Some people almost go into a panic when they hear that, but fries were invented in Belgium. The French don't mind that we call them French fries, even though the French tell Belgian jokes in the same way that Americans tell Polack jokes. In fact, in France I've told many Polack jokes, substituting "Belge" for "Polonais," and the jokes fly! Several years ago one of my cousins from France sent me the following funny picture of a bloody battle in Belgium.

War in Belgium (la Guerre en Belgique)...

picture of French fries in a bloody battle

(Click on the image for a larger version of it. In case you still can't tell what it is, it's fries with ketchup on some of them.)

I would love to hear some of your thoughts on our crazy English language and/or your funny mistakes in grappling with idiomatic expressions in another language. I've made my share of mistakes through the years!


"God's plan in our trials is not to make us more self-sufficient. It's to make us more dependent on Him." - Alan Benson

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

Refuse Novocain ... Transcend Dental Medication

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Jewish Grammar Rules

picture of oil bottle

Does something ever sound funny to you, and you don't know quite why? Or, if you now live somewhere other than where you grew up, do you ever say things that sound funny to others? My wife and I grew up in northwestern Ohio where the word wash is pronounced "worsh." People there also "redd up" the table after meals and "redd up" the house before guests arrive. When we were in college out of state, we had to eliminate those things from our speech, or be prepared to be teased or to explain what we meant.

In several of my classes today we were talking about the placement of adverbs in French sentences. In English we often put short adverbs before the verb – as in the bold print in the first part of this sentence. My students were having trouble understanding why using English word order in French would sound weird to the French who never put the adverb before the verb. I gave them one of the classic Pennsylvania Dutch examples of funny word order, where prepositional phrase placement in sentences turns "Throw the horse some hay over the fence" into "Throw the horse over the fence some hay"), which illustrates a slightly different effect of altering word order.

Along that vein, I found some rules for Jewish grammar in my files and am posting them, followed by what would make some great Jewish Country-Western Hits.

Jewish Grammar Rules

1. When making statements, phrase them as questions. Instead of telling Ida she looks gorgeous, ask her, "Ida, how stunning do you have to look?"

2. Instead of answering questions definitely, answer with another question. When someone asks how you feel, answer, "How should I feel?"

3. Whenever possible, end questions with "or what?" This allows the other person to interject another question: "Has she grown up, or what?" — "Can you remember when she was just a baby, or what?" (Don't be surprised if someone bursts into "Sunrise, Sunset" at any moment.)

4. Begin questions with "What?" For example: "What, my cooking is not good enough for you?"

5. Drop last word in sentence (which is typically a direct or indirect object): "What, do you want to get killed going alone? Harry will go with." (dropping the "you").

6. Move subject to end of sentences: "Is she getting heavy, that Esther?"

7. Use "that" as a modifier to communicate contempt: "Is Esther still dating that Norman fellow?"

8. Use "lovely" to describe actions taken by someone else that the listener should have done too: "We got a lovely note from the Goldmans for hosting the Seder." (Translation: "What, you didn't eat and drink too, at my Seder? You slob, you didn't send a thank you note!")

In using your newly obtained Jewish grammar remember that just because Jews are asking questions, doesn't mean they're going to wait around for an answer. If you've got something to say, speak up. Interrupt often. It shows that you are interested in the conversation. If you're talking and Jews don't interrupt you, they're bored.

Here's a lovely blend of Jewish and Country-Western phraseology and themes...

Jewish Country-Western Hits

For You I Should Be Singing?!

I Was One of the Chosen People ('Til She Chose Somebody Else)

Stand by Your Mensch

I've Got My Foot On The Glass, Where Are You?

My Rowdy Friend Levi's Comin' Over Tonight

You're the Lox My Bagel's Been Missin'

Mamas Don't Let Their Ungrateful Sons Grow Up to Be Cowboys (When You Could Very Easily Have Taken Over The Family Hardware Business That My Own Father Broke His Back To Start And Your Father Sweated Over For Forty-Five Years Which Apparently Doesn't Mean Anything To You Now That You're Turning Your Back On Such A Gift!)

Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Latkes

The Second Time She Said Shalom, I Knew She Meant Goodbye

I Balanced Your Books, but You're Breaking My Heart

Four Thousand Years of Sufferin', and I Had to Marry You?!


Have you discovered things that you grew up saying that others don't understand, or what? Or have you heard some interesting regional expressions?


“God doesn't call us to blind faith – He's given us lots of evidence.” - Dr. Drew Conley

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

"Let me tell you the one thing I have against Moses. He took us forty years into the desert in order to bring us to the one place in the Middle East that has no oil!" - Golda Meir

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Medical Faux Pas

Well, I think I've given blood for the second and final time in my life. A week ago this past Saturday I decided to try giving blood again when the Blood Connection had its bloodmobile at our church for a blood drive. I had given blood several years back and just made it through my unit when I started to have a vasovagal episode. It didn't come as a huge surprise since I had had problems when visiting people in the hospital who were receiving fluids or transfusions. After that incident I decided that maybe I shouldn't give blood again. This latest time, though, I thought maybe the same problem would not recur. However it did. I was able to finish giving my unit of blood and didn't pass out completely, but I felt terrible for the last third of the unit as and for a while afterwards.

The next day, though, I noticed that I had a rash and hives all around the site where they had drawn the blood. The following day it was creeping towards my wrist and my underarm, and the same thing was appearing on my other forearm. Below is a picture of my left arm.

picture of my hives

I took Benadryl before going to bed that night to see if that would calm my allergic reaction. It did basically nothing but make me half-loopy all day Tuesday. I went to see my doctor Wednesday, and we figured out that I was having a reaction to the chlorhexidine gluconate they had used to clean the site where the needle would go in. The nurse had chlorhexidine gluconate on her gloves and touched all over on my left arm during the whole process. There were apparently traces of the substance on the other arm of the chair from previous donors - hence the rash on my right forearm where it had touched the arm of the chair. I'm on Prednisone for one week (nasty stuff!) The rash is finally going away and bothering me much less.

picture of a t-shirt

What's kind of funny is that in two of my French classes in recent weeks we've been talking about various sports in French, one of which was rugby. I told my students that I had seen a t-shirt in France that said, "donnez du sang - jouez au rugby" (that is, give blood - play rugby). We all chuckled about it since rugby is such a rough game. I'm thankful that some are able to give blood with no ill effects, but after my experiences recently, I think the next time I decide to try giving blood, I'll go out for rugby instead!

Yesterday we had some guests for lunch. One is our niece, a nurse in a local ER, and another is a senior nursing major at BJU, currently doing her clinicals. They were talking about how surprised they are at how unfeelingly sometimes medical personnel talk among themselves about their work. It made me think of something in my files that I could post, wanting very much to have something to laugh about concerning medical things.

Things you don't want to hear during surgery

Wait a minute, if this is his spleen, then what's that?

Someone call the janitor--we're going to need a mop.

Bo! Bo! Come back with that! Bad dog!

Hand me that...uh...that uh...thingie.

Oh no! I *know* I had my wristwatch on when I came in here!

Oops! Hey, has anyone ever survived 500 ml of this stuff before?

Everybody stand back! I lost my contact lens!

Could you stop that thing from beating; it's throwing my concentration off.

What's this doing here?

I hate it when they're missing stuff in here.

Better save that. We might need it for an autopsy.

That's cool! Now can you make his leg twitch?

I wish I hadn't forgotten my glasses.

You did WHAT to our car?!

Well folks, this will be an experiment for all of us.

Sterile, schmerile. The floor's clean, right?

Anyone see where I left that scalpel?

OK, now take a picture from this angle. This is truly a freak of nature.

It's gonna blow! Everyone take cover!

Nurse, did this patient sign the organ donation card?

Don't worry. I think it is sharp enough.

Rats! Page 47 of the manual is missing!

FIRE! FIRE! Everyone get out!


I'd love to hear about the experiences, both good and bad, of those who've given blood or received blood.


"Many brave men have died for countries that don't exist any more." - Dr. Drew Conley

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

When the doctor got a bad cut, the nurse said, "Suture self."

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