The argument has been
made that English is the predominate language on earth because it's a mongrel
tongue. You don't have to fake a knowledge of wines or know when to bow. If
you can't find the right word, borrow a term from French or Sanskrit or just
make one up. It's perfectly grenfedal. Your word might not make it into the
Oxford English Dictionary but when did Oxford ever do anything for you other
than make you feel stupid?
English gobbles up foreign terms with ease, though maybe silly accents,
umlauts and strange letters you find in the names of Danish philosophers get
spat out along the way. Other languages don't have such an easy time adopting
English words. In some places, like France, the truncheon men of the Academie
Francaise will jail you and strip your family of citizenship if you try to
introduce a term like "McSuperTasty!" into the sacred lexicon.
The threat of a wicked punishment conceived by an under-employed bureaucrat
has, however, not stopped a French/English mell known as Franglais from
springing up in parts of Europe and oh I dunno Montreal. While Franglais
might not be the preferred language of commerce, in shops and pubs and
road-side traffic disputes it's the language of necessity.
Although Franglais is a living language in Quebec, Ontario border towns, and
New Brunswick, Franglais was first identified by French (as in France French)
author René Etiemble in a 1964 book called Parlez-vous franglais? In
it, he criticized the French for letting numerous English terms (notably
American English terms) pervade every day French speech and writing. He took
considerable issue with terms such as "call-girl" and
"strip-tease" being on the lips of every day French men. Etiemble
called for linguistic purism, believing French would lose it international
stature if it became little more than an English dialect.
Oddly enough, Americans pioneered using Franglais as a comedic device. Chuck
Jones' immortal Pépe Le Pew introduced the Western world to its first sly
talking Franglaisman on the make. Pépe actually began life in a 1945 cartoon
called Odor-able Kitty. However in this incarnation, the character was
only spouting Franglais in an attempt to cherchez les femmes (a French
expression meaning "stalk women"). Pépe was a married Midwesterner with
a wife and child. That skunk! It was decided the character would be more
lovable if he wasn't cheating on his family and Pépe returned in 1949's For
Scent-imental Reasons as a genuine Parisian varmint. The character shift
proved inspired as Pépe won an Oscar that year.
The Brits took up the comedy reigns in the '60s with Peter Sellers' Inspector
Jacques Clouseau. With Franglais comedy threatening to get stale by the late
'70s, British writer Miles Kington breathed new life into it and turned
Franglais into his own private cottage industry through out much of the '80s.
He wrote a book in 1981 called Parlez-Vous Franglais? He also wrote a
regular and memorable Franglais column in the '80s for Punch magazine.
How to Speak Franglais:
The general, well-established rule of thumb when speaking Franglais is
"vous simplement parlez what you knower in Francais, et fait tout else
in Anglais." In my own experiences as a Franglais writer, I've added a
When you don't know
the French word, before you use an English word, see if you can't
construct an ungainly term from the French that you do know. It's not
"pants" but "chemise de jambe" (leg shirt).
Any rambling French
phrase can be made to sound better if you add "cage match" somewhere
in the phrase. (Why n'est pas can't moi et tu solvez notre viva la
difference en la field de honor cage match!?)
structure works like this:
[french curse], [subject] [verb] [english helper verb] [english
helper adverb] [object] [adjective] [english helper word] [long strings
of rambling tangential english]. [Quebec political reference in English