Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Word Of The Week


This word, I was told, is an onomatopoeia. That is, it's a word that sounds like what it is.

If you read Ken's blog, you know that we went to a little party at our neighbors' house a couple of weeks ago. During the long evening (five hours), part of the conversation turned to language. This often happens; French people are curious about how and why we speak French, and they have questions about English that they're dying to ask.

A young woman at the party asked what the word "tummy" meant, and said she heard it when someone said he was hungry. "He had zee 'couacs' in heees tummy," she said, mixing both languages. I explained that tummy was a familiar term for stomach, a word that children use, mostly. But then I had to ask what "couacs" were.

She explained (in French), "You know, when you are hungry." Oh, growling, my stomach is growling ! But couac does not mean growling. It simply means a wrong note, as in music when you hit the wrong note on the piano.

I found out later that this woman's use of the word couac to describe hunger pangs is not normal in French, and most people probably wouldn't use that type of slang, if indeed it is slang, in the type of company our neighbors were hosting that evening.

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  1. And here I thought couac was the sound a duck makes!

  2. OMG Cheryl, you have it all wrong! Ducks say coin coin, not couac! There you stand corrected ;)
    But your tummy doesn't go couac either! Mon estomac gargouille! That's what it does.
    Now imagine you're playing the trumpet, then you can have a couac! Or figuratively, when things don't go the way you'd want them to, il y a eu un couac !
    I get mixed up in English, with the ups and downs! When do you break up? Or break down?
    Those little words I'll never learn properly.

  3. Claude, LOL ! Sensitive lovers break down after they break up... Young people break out while shifty people break in... Talented people break dance. Waves break over. In France, you can drive a break. But only in America can you make a fast break or take a coffee break.

    Gimme a break !

  4. Not to mention that very few people crack up after a crack down. And not many people will put up with a put down.

    Prisoners must often shut up during a lock down. Shop keepers shut down and lock up. If you are thrown down you might throw up. And who would show up for a show down ? Bombs blow up and trees blow down. And don't you have to dig up to dig down ?

    I could go on... but I already have.

  5. Oh, Walt, you're too funny! (And so are you, Cheryl and Claude!) Very clever. In my writing group, we recently had a discussion about "falling" and wondered how it was possible to both "fall in" and "fall out" of love? How can you fall both ways? Shouldn't you fall in love and then climb out of it? English keeps you on your toes!

  6. I cannot put up with people putting me down.
    Claude, perhaps French ducks say coin, American ducks say "dollar". ;-)

  7. Oops, Walt already used up the put up and put down. I'll have to come up with something more original...

    I guess I should shut up before I shut down the computer.


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