French is often known as the ‘language of love’, whilst Latin languages (the group to which French belongs) are generally considered to be particularly romantic – in fact, an alternative term for ‘Latin languages’ is ‘romance languages’. However, French isn’t just romantic – it can be highly practical, too. Echoing the directness of its native speakers, the language itself does not mess around in conveying exactly what it wants to get across. To illustrate this point, I’ve compiled a list of ten examples of English-French translations, where the translation tells you very clearly just what it is you’re dealing with.
Okay, that’s a lie. I don’t care about illustrating the point, it just made a nice introduction.
These are just ten literal translations that really tickled me. I wrote a post about one of them a while back, but I thought the topic merited revisiting. There are definitely far more than ten, too, but these are the first that sprang to mind.
The first two made me laugh because the English versions and the French versions are each so representative of their respective countries. The rest just sound hilariously silly when you translate them literally. And yet, you have to admit, they do all make complete logical sense.* When you think about it.
1. Pie chart
Actual french translation: Le camembert
Literal translation back to English: Camembert (cheese – eaten/served by cutting wedges out of a circle)
Actual translation: La cuillère à café
Literal translation: Coffee spoon
Actual translation: Le chou-fleur
Literal translation: Cabbage-flower
Actual translation: Les doigts de pieds
Literal translation: Feet fingers
Actual translation: Quatre-vingt-dix-neuf
Literal transaltion: Four-twenty-ten-nine
Actual translation: La pomme de terre
Literal translation: Ground apple, or earth apple
Actual translation: Le serre-tête
Literal translation: Squeeze-head
Actual translation: La boite de nuit
Literal translation: Night box
Actual translation: La garde-robe
Literal translation: Dress-keeper… or dress-guard
10. A handshake
Actual translation: La poignée de main
Literal translation: A handful of hand
Personally, my favourties are 4. and 10. – just for the visuals…. Let me know if you have any of your own to add to the list!
*Apart from the ‘ninety-nine’, perhaps. I will never get over my frustration with the French numerical system.