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The Write Way

16 April 2004

En France


Lavinia has been going through her French phase recently, which is why she's been a little quiet of late. She and Raoul were invited to one of those junkets ... er ... "conferences" that large companies conduct shortly before tax time when they realise they haven't spent their huge Research and Development budget and that unless they do, they won't get as much next year. 

So they'd set sail, figuratively speaking, for Parts Foreign ... well, they'd gone to a resort on the Gold Coast and because one of the speakers was French (and a bit of a looker as well if Lavinia's breathy description of him as "un doll" a doll, was anything to go by), and because the menus were in French and the shampoos and soaps were labelled "Paris, London, New York," she immediately became a Francophile.

Her daily letters to me were scattered with evidence of her newly acquired passion. (I think the dear girl has visions of herself, sitting at a Victorian writing desk, prettily penning witty epistles to admiring friends around the globe ...) Her first communication was a short note, written on the back of a resort post card and it read in part, "I'm writing this as I sit by the "fenêtre" window of our "chambre" room and before I go to the "boutique" shop to buy "les sandales" sandals."

I smiled indulgently at her sudden immersion in the language, and the next day, when I received a one-page letter from her, I set my smile firmly in place again as I read, "I wore "les shorts" shorts to "la plage" the beach "le matin" in the morning and then changed into my new "robe" dress for "déjeuner" lunch ..." But by the time I'd reached the end of the letter, the smile was wearing a tad thin.

When the postie blew his whistle the next morning, I had trouble controlling the twitch as I opened another missive from "le bureau de Lavinia" the desk of Lavinia ... This time it was three pages long and opened with a jaunty salutation, "La plume de ma tante est sur la table de mon oncle!" Although why I'd need to know where her aunt's pen was is a mystery known only to Lavinia and her therapist ... 

The letter continued, "Ma girafe ne boit que de soda à basses calories." Her giraffe can only drink diet soda? What has the girl been doing? 

"Ce lion sait bien jouer du tuba." Lion? What lion? And since when did lions play the tuba?

She concluded with the dramatic declaration, "Je refuse de partir avant de retrouver mon lézard familier." I can't believe she'd even want a pet lizard, let alone refuse to leave without it. Then she signed off with a flourish, "Votre amie" your friend "pour toujours" forever "et jamais" and ever, "Lavinie" Lavinia.

Now, much as I adore Lavinia, I have to confess that this habit of tossing French terms into her letters with gay abandon and then translating them was irritating in the extreme. A quick phone call to Raoul and I was able to put a name to my pain and the name was "Pierre." Lavinia's new friend, sorry "ami" had been giving her French lessons but the only book he could find was "Lizbet et James Visitent le Zoo" so he'd had to improvise.

But you can rely on our girl to snap out of these moments as quickly as she falls into them, and it wasn't long after she'd uttered the memorable line, "Pretentious? Moi?" as she waited in a queue outside La Galerie d' Arte Moderne that she came to her senses.

She'd stood for an hour in front of one of those puzzling modern paintings that all the critics were agog over. You know the sort of thing, two grey stripes and one white stripe ... the ones you feel confident you could produce given a white canvas, a can of grey paint, a roll of duct tape and 10 minutes of free time.


She'd peered at it from up close; stepped back with her sweet chin cupped in her hand; turned her little head first on one side and then the other until she finally burst into tears and sobbed on Raoul's shoulder, "I just don't know if it has that certain je ne sais quois or not!"

So, as a community service, I thought this week I'd present a selection of Useful French Phrases ... You just don't know when you might want to impress your friends even if you never make it to France.

Dégustation des vins - Wine tasting

Baignade interdite - No bathing

En panne - Out of order

Ça ne marche pas - This doesn't work 

Je veux être remboursé - I want a refund 

J'ai mal ici - I have a pain here

Je parle très peu le français - I speak very little French

And the one that will save you every time:

Est-ce qu'il y a quelqu'un qui parle anglais ici? - Does anyone here speak English? 

You'll find all these phrases and hundreds more here.   


This week's quiz:

Let's indulge Lavinia and try some words that are derived (or just plain pinched) from French words (and yes, I know you know all of these ... it's just interesting to see how many words we've taken from our French cousins):

counterfeit, alabaster, ennui, bourgeoisie, bizarre, aide-de-camp, amateur, apostrophe, bikini, harlequin   

1. the superscript sign  used to indicate the omission of a letter or letters from a word, the possessive case, or the plurals of numbers, letters, and abbreviations 

2. very brief, close-fitting two-piece bathing suit worn by women (and men)

3. variety of hard calcite, translucent and sometimes banded 

4. a military officer acting as secretary and confidential assistant to a superior officer of general or flag rank 

5. strikingly unconventional and far-fetched in style or appearance; odd 

6. a person who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession 

7. the middle class 

8. listlessness and dissatisfaction resulting from lack of interest; boredom 

9. having a pattern of brightly colored diamond shapes make a copy of, usually with the intent to defraud; forge 

And here's an interesting theory Albert found on the origin of a word known to many:

Many years ago, in Scotland, a new game was invented. It was ruled “Gentlemen Only...Ladies Forbidden”...and thus the word GOLF entered into the English language. 

This story will bring much sage nodding of heads from card players everywhere:

A group of bushies are sitting around arguing over what they'd want if they were lost in the Outback and were only allowed one thing. The first says, "I couldn't do without my trusty old horse. She could probably lead me to a homestead from the back of Bourke." 

The second says, "You can have your horse but I'd want my swag. If you're gonna be lost you may as well sleep warm at night." 

The third says, "There's no question. I'd want my old Queensland Heeler, "Blue" He's my best mate and if I was gonna die out there I'd want him beside me." 

The last old bushie says, "Only one thing I'd need -- a pack of cards. See, I'd start playing Patience and before long some ratbag would be looking over my shoulder saying, "Red Jack on black Queen."


Last week's quiz:

Choose a word from the list for each of the meanings below:

salient, aver, impassive, piquant, equipoise, intrepid, demur, morose, loquacious, raffish

1. affirm, assert, prove, justify - AVER

2. fearless, brave, undaunted - INTREPID

3. without feeling, not affected by pain - IMPASSIVE

4. conspicuous, highly relevant, prominent - SALIENT

5. gloomy, sullen - MOROSE

6. low, vulgar, base, tawdry - RAFFISH

7. talkative, garrulous - LOQUACIOUS

8. agreeably pungent, stimulating - PIQUANT

9. to hesitate, raise objections - DEMUR

10. equal distribution of weight; equilibrium - EQUIPOISE

OK, stop me if you've heard this one ...

Three friends are getting deep and meaningful after a few beers at the pub and one says, "When you're in your coffin and family and friends are mourning, what would you like to hear them say about you?"

The first man says, "I'd like to hear them say that I was a great doctor and a great family man."

The second man says, "I'd like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference in our children."

The last man says, "I'd like to hear them say, 'Look! He's moving!'"

Thank you to everyone who's made a comment on the Map of the World

A Little Something Extra

Jenna Glatzer's new book, Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments not only explains how to come up with great ideas for articles and how to pitch these ideas to the right places, it also includes a series of exercises you can complete to help you win some of those most desired "top assignments." This is an example from Chapter 2: 

Think through your whole day. Don’t neglect anything. What do you do from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep? You turn off your alarm clock. (An article about alarm clocks disrupting valuable sleep stages! Or waking up to music versus waking up to that annoying beeping sound. Or the optimal number of times to press the "snooze" button.) You brush your teeth. (Article: "What all those touted ingredients— fluoride, peroxide, baking soda—really do for your teeth.") You take a shower. Maybe with your significant other. Lucky you. ("Romantic showers for two.")

Her Topic Worksheet is a brilliant way to organise all your ideas and angles about a topic - you'll probably find yourself running off multiple copies of blank sheets to carry with you for all those times the Muse strikes.

While this one section makes the book well worth its tiny price, it has so much more that will help both new freelancers and those who are looking to increase their workload. There's the chapter on "FOBs and BOBs and Wells" that tells you what sort of articles by new writers have the best chance of being accepted by magazine publishers; another that gives before and after examples of different writing styles and another that shows you how to keep track of your queries and all those other records you should keep. 

Once you have written an article for a magazine and had it published, doesn't it make sense to try to make yourself indispensable to them? You bet it does, and that's why Jenna's chapter, "On Becoming a Favorite Freelancer" may well become the most-read section of this book! There's much more, but I don't want to spoil it for you ... Get your copy and toss a few coins into my Running Away Fund by clicking now. 

Word of the week: Soi-disant (adj) self-styled; so-called.

I bet you could apply this to someone you know ... such as those soi-disant experts on everything from Solitaire to software. explains that this term comes from "the French, from soi, "oneself" + disant, "saying."

If you received this newsletter from a friend and you'd like to have your very own copy delivered to you on Friday, just click here: and why not spread the word? Send your friends a copy and invite them to join our merry band - we number over 8,500 now.

Oxymoron of the week: Modern Art (OK, I know it's only a few that give it a bad name ... don't get mad at me ...)

This week's Latin phrase is one many of us would like to use at some of these art shows ...

Dicisne hoc opus artem esse? Quivis infans rem meliorem facere potest. (You call this art? My two-year-old could do better.)



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