Thursday, June 15, 2006

Where an idiomatic expression is misunderstood by a non-native speaker

Further to the Globe story about "vulgar gestures" used in the House of Commons, what apparently happened is that the MP who was offended, the Government House Leader Rob Nicholson , was not familiar with the expression "faire un bras d'honneur" which my dictionary describes as "to put two fingers up at somebody; to give somebody the V-sign, give somebody the finger (US)."

The interpreter made a mistake and said Italian arm, instead of An arm of honour (the literal translation of the above expression). Because of the Italian element, Mr. Nicholson felt that the expression insulted some of his Italian constituents.

There are many expressions, both in English and in French, where a particular nationality is used as a qualifier:

1) In the culinary arts, cuit à l'anglaise means boiled
2) In the world of movement, filer à l'anglaise means to take French leave (to run off or run away)
3) In sexuality, une capote anglaise is a French safe a.k.a condom
4) And a French kiss is a patin or se rouler un patin (not to be confused with the word skate, as in ice-skate)
5) In architecture, a French door is a porte-fenêtre
6) and a Dutch door is a porte d'étable
7) In clothes making, French chalk is craie de tailleur (as if all Frenchmen were tailors)
8) In geography, The English Channel is called La Manche (the sleeve) in French.
9) To go Dutch for a meal, the French says "partager les frais",
10) That's Greek to me in French is C'est de l'hébreu ou du chinois (it's Hebrew or Chinese to me).


chumly said...

When I was in High School the thing I remember in French was "Mange moi les orielle." Not sure what it meant but it made people laugh. We were not very bright in French. It took me 4 years to get through 2. Thanks for the lesson. I will book mark this post for sure.

Oleg Kuzin said...

Could not find anything with manger and oreille. A couple of expressions that did catch my eye are "tirer les oreilles" i.e. to tell somebody off, and "se faire tirer l'oreille" which means to need a lor of persuading.