Gifts from France

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” 
 Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast


I struggled valiantly in high school to learn the French language.   As a teenager, I would imagine myself walking on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées confidently speaking French with people who I would meet along the way.  I defined French as elegant sophistication.  It is a Romance language after all.   I never mastered the language, yet I can say that I use many French words in my daily exchanges.  Their background stories are as fascinating as the language from which they come.

When you hold something in “abeyance,” you are drawing from the French “bayer” meaning to “gape,” as if you were holding your mouth open for an event to occur.  When you bid your friend goodbye using the phrase “adieu,” you are saying “I commend you to God.”  Adroit, which signifies nimble or skilled, comes from the French “à droite” which means “to the right.”  It was believed, at on time, only right-handed people were competent.

Under “curfew” has a serious overtone, yet its origin is rather innocuous.  Curfew comes from the French termcouvre feu,” which simply means “cover the fire” or lights out, time for sleep.  “Exchequer” comes from the old French word “eschequier,” meaning chess or checkerboard.  The English borrowed the word during the time of Edward I of England.  A special court, convened to administer the King’s revenue, used a special table covered with a checkered cloth.  My personal favourite, is the word “puppy” which comes from the French “poupée” meaning “doll.”   A young dog is seen as something playful or a plaything.

Vive la langue française!

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.” 

Thomas Jefferson


Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

31 thoughts on “Gifts from France

    1. Thank you! 🙂 I find their our so many layers of language that seem to fade into history. Once you know the story, you have more insight into the meaning. Oh, the tales that words can say…


  1. I also learned French at school, and even passed my final exam in French Literature, but I’ve never actually been able, or had the confidence to actually speak it to a French person. It is a beautiful language, and I sometimes wish I’d persevered.


    1. Maybe it is time we head back to Paris. Can you imagine studying French in the heart of the city loved by Vincent?!!! Maybe we could take up painting….the adventures await us!

      “There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here, and if it became worse and harder even—the French air clears up the brain and does good—a world of good.”
      ― Vincent van Gogh


  2. I taught myself how to speak French after I married my (French) husband. Took me about a year. I still make little mistakes when I speak, but I’m fluent. It’s a great feeling. 🙂


    1. How wonderful!!! That is the very best way to learn. Language is a looking glass, a conduit of knowledge. There is no greater feeling of loss than standing in the middle of a city not being able to read the signs, newspapers, menus. You know instinctively that you have been left out of the conversation. I agree – there is no greater feeling than to be able to speak fluently… 🙂


    1. And what a dynamic and exciting romance. I knew that you would appreciate the puppy origin. Every time I see a puppy, I will remember poupee! 🙂 🙂 🙂


      1. Me too. My little poupee/ puppy, who is really a middle aged gentleman, is on the bean bag at the moment all pooped out. Even a grown dog retains its essential poupee -ness. It’s one of the reasons we love them so much.


  3. I’ve only been to Paris a couple times, but the diamonds of France are the women. The language, the food, the culture are exquisite… but to be in Paris is to wish to be young and to believe in love.

    Here’s a song in french sung by Pink Martini – one of my favorites –


    1. This is wonderful!!! I have listened to it several times over and have added it to my “collection.” Words are powerful – when music added the power becomes exponential.

      “I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.”
      ― Cole Porter


    2. Whoever put this musical tapestry together has the mind and soul of and mind of a truly sensitive artist. Using Pink Martini to decorate the sound is the mark real talent.

      I have been a dancer since the age of eleven, and know of what I speak. Chapeau for this exceptional contribution. It put a smile on my heart that will last the day, and I thank you for this…

      You are indeed right about the diamonds of France, where I lived on and off for many years, sharing my time between France and Montreal, Canada. So much so that when I last moved back to Canada on a permanent basis, I married a French diamonds, so as not to be deprived.

      About dancing and dancers in France… here are a few words, one of my poems inspired when living in an apartment on la Côte d’Azur in la petite ville de Vence… The lady who pranced obviously lived upstairs, and the few words that follow was to keep me sane in this beautiful part of the world.

      “ The Dancer ”
      ~ a devil upstairs ~

      I’d know the music
      Just by listening
      To the patter
      On the floor upstairs,
      And the pulse
      That cajoles her feet
      To a mystifying beat,
      For she capers
      Like it matters
      With melodic flair,
      In a rhythm she adorns
      Be the center of a storm,
      Frenzied to a level
      That shan’t be mistaken
      As a dancer who conforms…

      She’s a devil I can tell
      As her dance casts a spell,
      Thus follow I with ease
      If she decides to leave
      Tho it led me right to hell,
      Just so I can listen
      To this dancer’s patter,
      On the floor upstairs!

      Jean-Jacques Fournier

      Thanks again for your great post… JJ


  4. I am enjoying your ‘history of phrases’ very much. I have two others for you which I heard on a CSI programme this week [although nothing to do with Paris!!]:
    Many years ago, people were buried with a piece of string fastened to one of their fingers, and a bell attached to the other side of the string above the ground. If, by any chance, they had been buried alive [as had happened many times back then], when they moved, the bell would ring. This is the origin of the phrase “saved by the bell”. A person would be delegated to sit by the grave through the night, in case the person woke up. This is where “the graveyard shift” comes from.

    Again, we are in perfect harmony with each other, although there are thousands of physical miles between us. Last night I ordered two books from Amazon:
    “The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris” by John Baxter and “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway!! Blessings, dear Rebecca.


    1. “Saved by the Bell!” and “Graveyard Shift!” What marvelous stories that add so much depth to our understanding. I have “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway, and now I have just downloaded ““The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris” by John Baxter And I just started to read the first paragraph!!! Ah…this is going to be an amazing book…. Thank you!!! 🙂


  5. I struggled with French too! I’d like to learn it now, but I’m not convinced by courses on it that I wouldn’t come out sounding like the text book – not very elegant! 🙂 I’ve heard the most effective way to learn a language is to go to the country and live there – a very brave thing to do to, but it would certainly deal with my concentration wavering – nothing like the deep end! 😀


    1. Oh, let’s go to the deep end…!!! I agree – living in a country is the best way to go. When I was in the Italian Language School, I spoke with several students who had learned Italian in eight months by living and breathing the language. Some people have a naturally affinity for languages, however I think the most important prerequisite is to love the language. “Splash” – did you hear me jump!!! 😆


    1. I love to hear people speak French. There is a lilt to the phrasing – like music! Thank you so much for your visits, comments and poetry! 🙂


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