Saturday, August 21, 2010

Finding the Words

It's always good to carry a dictionary when you're in Foreign Parts. For many years, my mother's dictionary of choice when visiting France was the one on the left.

My mother's French used to be pretty good but there are always words you don't know, aren't there? She trundled on with this dictionary all through the Sixties and Seventies until finally I persuaded her that it was helping her only to address surprised French people with something along the lines of "Prithee, sirrah, couldst thou direct me to the nearest establishment where I can exchange my groats for French coinage?"

Actually, the one on the left was published in 1944 so it's quite hot on words such as bomb, bomber, bombardment, soldier, resistance - - - but, strangely, not "Nazi".

It just wasn't helping, so eventually we gave up on it and lashed out £3.99 on a new one.

That one, dear reader, is the one on the right.

And it's useless. Again and again it lets me down. My French vocabulary is actually not bad - - - so when I'm looking for a word it's usually something specific to a particular thing - - usually food - - or to a region. Or a word that my French teacher when I was at school stupidly forgot to teach me, such as the word for mobile phone, or the word for computer. Pah.

Finally, halfway through the holiday, I gave up on carrying this wretched dictionary around since any word I wanted to know wasn't in it.

And thus it was that I ended up eating a plate of calf's kidneys which weren't as bad as I thought they might be, though I would never have ordered them. ("Rognons de veau" in case you ever need to know). And yes, "rognons" was the only word that I might have looked up that actually was in this dictionary.

In the Dordogne everything edible involves bits of duck apart for the things that involve the liver of geese that have been force-fed, which is of course pate de foie gras. Oh yes, and there were frogs' legs too, just to keep up the stereotype but luckily I know what a grenouille is. And I did know enough to avoid andouilettes - which are sausages made of chitterlings which are perfectly edible but I don't want to eat them! Oh, and it's gizzards, gizzards all the way too, but "gesier" is a word I learned years ago so know not to go near them.

Not that there's anything wrong with eating gizzards, or chitterlings, or calf's head - - in my book, if you're a carnivore - and I am - then you shouldn't go "ewwwww" over one bit of animal whilst happily eating another bit.

But it's just a question of personal taste and there are some things I just don't want to eat, okay? And it would be good if my dictionary helped me out a bit.

It's not so long - well, it didn't seem that long - since I bought this dictionary so I wondered why it was so generally useless.

Upon closer investigation, I learned that although I bought the dictionary in the early years of this century, it was actually a reprint, done in 1999. But - aha! - wait a moment! It was first published in 1979!!! I was a postgrad student at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff then, wandering round clad mostly in leotards and wrap-round Indian-print skirts.

It was a long time ago. We were still well impressed with non-stick pans back then and thought a smartphone was one that came in any colour other than black.

I'm going to buy another dictionary for when I next go back to France. And I'll be checking the publication date.


Blogger Silverback said...

We, of course, had you as our human French dictionary on that trip, Daffy.

Sadly, like the ones in the photo, you were full of useless words, frayed at the ages and had peaked in 1979 !

Only joking. Despite causing me to also order a plate of those nasty kidneys, your translations were spot on and very useful - most of the time !

5:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't go for Berlitz though. My German dictionary of same name doesn't have any pronunciation so is quite useless. (By the way, how do you say that word: pronunciation?)
Glad you liked the kidneys - just to think, with a dictionary to hand you might never have tried such a delicious dish. Rognons d'agneau are even better.

8:46 pm  

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