I don’t speak French, but I love the sound of French being spoken. Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet are on my Pandora list. I don’t understand a word they sing, but their melodic voices soothe my fragile nerves when I hear the chainsaws chewing up the forest near my home.
Even though I don’t know the language, I use many French words in my writing that are common in our English lexicon. The trouble is I couldn’t spell them correctly if you held a gun to my head. I feed these misspellings into my spellcheck so often, I’m surprised it hasn’t shut down.
Here are a few:
1. Rendezvous: Because this word is pronounced ron-day-voo, and the “z” and “s” are silent, I always have trouble getting past the second letter. The rest of the word: forget it.
2. Maître d': I can handle the circumflex over the “i,” but what’s with that dangling “d” and the accent following it anyway? I would spell it Metra Dee. I like the way it looks on paper. In fact, I just might use it as the name of a character in a book. He’d own a French restaurant called the Ron-day-voo.
3. Hors d’oeuvre: In this word the “s” is also silent and an “r” is pronounced quickly after the “d.” It sounds like “dirvre” . . . as in dirt. Instead, the “r” comes almost at the end. What’s with that?
4. Bouillabaisse: One of my favorite dishes. If this dish were on the menu and I had to spell it for my supper, I’d have to fill up on bread.
5. Bourgeois: This lovely sounding word means the French middle class. It makes them sound a bit risqué (I stumbled on this one, too) and daring. I can get the first five letters down, but no matter how correctly I pronounce the last syllable “eois,” spelling it correctly just doesn’t happen.
6. Pot-pourri: I hear the first syllable and I think of Edgar Allen. And how would I know there are two “r’s” in “pourri” and what’s with the dash preceding this second syllable? I would spell it Poepouri—no dash.
One French word I have no trouble spelling is Pernod, even though the “d” is silent. I like to think I can spell it because I love the liqueur (I get that one right, too). Truth is, it’s easy for me to spell because it only has six letters, no accent marks, no dashes, and no danglers.
Another confession: I really can’t blame my trouble with spelling foreign words on the French language. I also have the darndest time spelling jalapanos, japalenos, jalapeños correctly. But that hasn’t stopped me from eating tons of them.
Kathleen Kaska, Marketing Director