Before reading this book, you should have digested or at least nibbled at the contents of its predecessor, MERDE! The REAL French You Were Never Taught at School. It's not just that I want you to buy both books ("cela va sans dire"), but I shall at times in this book assume knowledge acquired in the first.
To give newcomers to our linguistic venture a hint of the value of our previous study, think of the importance of possessing "merde" in your vocabulary. People who have changed the course of history have used it, so why should you lose out on such great moments as when Napoleon told Talleyrand, "Vous êtes de la merde dans un bas de soie" (You're shit in silk stockings)? Surely you know of the moment of the word's apotheosis when General Cambronne, having been called upon to surrender at the battle of Waterloo, yelled it out to the British forces, thus immortalizing the five-letter word known ever after as "Le mot de Cambronne."
Now, if you enjoyed MERDE! and, with it, finally broke the code of those French conversations which had always eluded you, restricted as you were to the French you were fed at school, you will have appreciated the fact that language is not just an accumulation of words but also a key to the spirit and to the character of the people who speak it. You will also, I hope, have had a good laugh in the process. What I offer here is further exploration of colloquial vocabulary and idioms and, through them, deeper insights into the French psyche. French idioms are often very funny, based as they are on concrete and colorful imagery. I'll give you a few examples just to arouse your interest.
Picture this: "enculer les mouches," a priceless image. As you may remember from MERDE!, that translates as "to fuck a fly's ass," an image meaning "to nitpick, to split hairs," but how much more colorful than the English translation. So there will be elements of scatology in this book (hurray!), but you must learn to accept that urino-anal imagery, so frequently used by the French, is not necessarily rude. For example, there are two perfectly ordinary and acceptable names for colors which are in the above-mentioned genre:
1. "couleur caca d'oie" means literally the color of goose shit yet is a normal description for a yellowish-green hue, and if Zola can use it in his books, why shouldn't it be part of your vocabulary?
2. "une couleur pisseuse" (literally, a urinelike color) means a wishy-washy, insipid color.
One more splendid expression, while we're on the subject, to illustrate the concrete nature of many French idioms: "autant pisser dans un violin" (literally, one might as well piss in a violin) is used to express frustration, lack of progress, banging one's head against a brick wall. Finally, to show that the visual brilliance of French idioms does not depend merely on excretion: "sucrer les fraises" (literally, to sugar the strawberries) describes someone, usually an old person, who has the shakes. Can't you just picture the movement of a hand shaking sideways as it would when sprinkling sugar over strawberries?
Copyright © 1986 by Geneviève Edis