Wednesday, 2 December 2009

St Jean de Luz verbage

Having been in St Jean de Luz for a year now I am slowly getting grips with speaking French. The more I understand of the language the more similarities I find with English. There are a whole host of words that exist in both languages either directly or indirectly. There are three obvious types:
1. Exact matches: chauffeur, restaurant, profession, avenue, table etc.
2. Close matches: absolument-absolutely, vin-wine, necessaire-necessary etc.
3. Trend matches: English - pret a porter, chic, soiree; French - weekend, cool, let's go
However, there are also a few words in English that are obviously derived from French but which carry a very different meaning. The two most obvious examples are mercy and settee.
Mercy in English is a word used to show compassion by one person to another. It has to have come from the French 'merci' which means thank you. I can only imagine that at some point a group of French soldiers were taken prisoner by the English. During their imprisonment I imagine the French saying thank you to the English for not killing them. Misunderstanding what was being said I like to think that the English saw this as a new word that has been adopted under the guise of mercy.
The word settee is common-place in English. The nearest French translation is canape, nothing like settee. Again, imagining some battle fought long ago, the English were this time captured by the French. I like to think that some French soldier ordered the English to sit on that bench over there, declaring 'assieds-toi'. Not understanding the foreign words or accent perhaps the English soldiers thought their captor was referring to the bench or wooden settee. Who knows?
The more I think about the more confusing it becomes. Throw in Basque and Spanish then I'm completely flummoxed...
Basque of the day:- translate :: itzuli