Friday, March 12, 2010

Eastern Daylight time/heure avancée de l’est

This is the time of the year when we switch to the Eastern Daylight time; this led me to ponder how this is expressed in French and the possible reasons.  First of all, I should note  that in Canada, the “Daylight” expression is not rendered in French in the same way – we say Eastern advanced hour. The two settings are Daylight time and Standard time, rendered in French as heure avancée and  heure normale, literally advanced time and normal time. Ensoleillement is the French word for “daylight”.
A play on words in English is often used to remember when to move clocks ahead and when to move them back. It is “Spring forward and Fall back”. It is an amazingly clever play on words where Spring the season, becomes spring the verb – i.e. jump forward. In the same way, the season Fall, becomes fall the verb meaning to drop or move in a specified direction.
A search of French literature on this subject shows that in Canada, newspaper writers say “reculer les montres”  i.e. set back watches, where it is actually the time shown on them that is set back. In a French Swiss article, I found “les montres ont reculé d’une heure” (clocks moved back one hour). Other sources, primarily from France, appear to favor the verb “retarder”. One would therefore say avancer les montres ou horloges et retarder les montres ou horloges.
I remember reading in several translation manuals that English typically appears to favor a concrete approach to express many things: move back the hands of the clock whereas French would say avancer une montre d’une heure ou retarder une montre de 15 minutes.
I would almost think that “reculer les montres” is an error described as “anglicisme de structure” i.e. a sentence using French words but with an English sentence structure.  An online Internet dictionary provided the following German: “eine Uhr zurűckwerfen”, when it refers to time, which sounds like “throw back a clock”. What do you think?

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