Liberty, equality and fraternity may be fundamental French rights; but Anglophones have taken huge liberties with the beautiful French language.
For example, there's no French word ending in e that we don't feel must be capped with an acute accent. Thus, prix fixe is often rendered as prix fixé. Ideé fixe receives similar treatment.
Then again, we seem to have made French an adjective for things sexual, such as French kissing, or the British "French letters" for prophylactics, or "the French disease" for syphilis.
Then there's just common or garden mangling of the French language, as when some restaurant menus say that roast beef is served "with the au jus." And our use of the word entrée for the main course is just plain silly. In France it means, as it should, the entering course— or the appetizer— not the main course.
Kids or testicles?
I'm an unabashed British-born Francophile, having attended the Lycée de Londres at the age of six. I've traveled widely in France and spent several years in French-speaking Canada. There, incidentally, the slang and inflections of the language can be traced to the original French settlers in New France in the 17th Century. Gosses in France means kids; in Montreal it means testicles. So try not to ask a Quebecois, "How're your kids?"
English owes so much to the French language. We have laissez-faire, liaison, lingerie, ménage Ó trois, nouveau riche, raison d'être, savoir faire, touché, and voyeur. Conversely, though, the French have co-opted such English expressions as weekend and hamburger, even though the French Ministry of Culture has decided to squash such imports as e-mail, blog and fast food, and to find acceptable Francophone translations. Wi-Fi, for instance, becomes accès sans fils Ó l'internet.
We Brits used to say that when you cross the English Channel into France— known to the French as La Manche (the sleeve)— you don't actually have to learn French, you just speak louder in English, and eventually the natives will understand. Americans adopt much the same noblesse oblige. (We also poke fun at the French language, suggesting that coup de grace means lawnmower and tête-Ó -tête means this bra's too tight.)
Rittenhouse Square, too
The U.S. owes France a great deal: The American Revolution was aided by French financial and military support. The city of Washington was designed by a French engineer, Pierre Charles L'Enfant. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people. Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Rittenhouse Square were designed by Paul Crét.
(To be sure, the French owe us as well. Some 60,000 American GIs are buried in French soil, having fought to rescue France from Hitler during World War II.)
We Americans have much to learn from French culture: how to cook and eat well without putting on weight. How to drink without falling down. How to design trains that travel 200 miles in an hour. How to produce Dégas and Matisse, Chopin and Flaubert.
So let's stop putting the acute accent on every French e we find. And s'il vous plait, can we go back to using entrée as the first— not the main— course?♦
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