Sank a set

10 02 2012

So it is often remarked how the UK and America are two nations separated by a common language. Canada, always liking to play nicely with everyone, sits neatly in the middle and accepts either country’s spellings and idioms as its own.

I still struggle, 11 years into my Canadian adventure, with “healthful” though. What, in the name of all that is good for you, is wrong with “healthy”?! And WTF is “normalcy”?!

Webster, the well meaning Victorian reformer that he was, massacred much of the language in the name of rationalising it for the American people. “Colour” and “labour” were trimmed, as the ‘u’ is silent (though in Yorkshire, “culler” would be more phonetic but just as long), yet “cough” is left unsullied instead of being changed to an Orwellian “coff”, or double-plus-coff if it’s a serious one.

Wikipedia: Noah Webster

Wikipedia: Noah Webster

Shakespearian-era “fall” was crystallised in lingual amber in North America, while the rest of the English speaking world moved with the times and accepted the more trendy French “autumn” in preference. After an experimental airing with Chaucer in 1374, “autumn” came to us for keeps via the Bard himself in The Taming of the Shrew – 1596. These mini-facts come to you via The Daily from Washington Uni.

But the French language suffers a similar lack of transference too. Plainly it’s something to do with the mysterious lingual effects of the Atlantic.
Studies should be done!
Taxes should be idly squandered!
Oh… they are already?!

French (Parisian) French is taught in Europe, and some bizarre blend of this French French and English schoolboy French is spoken in Quebec, New Brunswick, and by association, the rest of Canada (but only when really pushed… like at exam time!). I was brought up to pronounce the French for “now” (maintenant) as man-te-non, with lots of nasal emphasis. My daughters, both taught French in BC, and therefore in the style Quebecois, pronounce it main-te-nant… exactly as it’s spelt! On reflection, this trait does explain the bizarre North American pronunciation of Worcestershire (as in sauce) exactly as it’s written, instead of the correct “Wustersha”.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah” I can hear my regulars moaning… “get to the point, assuming there is one!” So here it is…

In France, when they say “cinq à sept“, which literally means “five ’til seven”, they are referring to a bit of private time with their mistress. In France, having a mistress is mandatory, and written into the marriage contract. (A mistress of course being defined as “somewhere between a mister and a mattress”). There are hotels which cater for the needs of such liaisons with few questions asked beyond “And how will you be paying for the room Sir?”. Such is the way of life in La belle France.

However, as the language came over to North America with those lusty young Frenchmen, who’d been lured with promises of high adventure and seemingly limitless beavers (I didn’t say they were smart!), things got a little skewed. Here in Canada, (at least the almost-French speaking bits of it, like Montreal), “cinq à sept” has come to mean, rather boringly, “after work drinks”. Tame, or what?!

Anyway, if you happen to be out that way and have lost your usual beaver, here’s a few places to go look for a new one: | Notable Cinq a Sept Hotspots in Montreal. cinq à sept cinq à sept




One response

11 02 2012
misfits' miscellany

Nice piece. I read that only three percent of the English speaking world, speak standard English, which includes British and American English.

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