It’s been a long time since a pair of underpants got me thinking. (The last time was in the 1980s while flicking through my mum’s Grattan catalogue to be precise, but I digress.)
This rather fetching pair of Pull-In pants did the trick, though. I spotted them in Galeries Lafayette in Paris a couple of weeks ago.
“J’aime la baguette,” proclaims the Lichtenstein-esque face on the front. (I didn’t dare look at the back.)
Now that’s what I call a double entendre. But if I said that to a French speaker, they would look at me blankly. It’s a term we use in English that is meaningless to French people or is used differently in French.
Cul-de-sac is another. I’m sure there are plenty more.
The term double entendre would more likely be translated as expression à double sens. And a dead-end road (usually lined with detached homes) would be a voie sans issue for the French. That’s what the street signs say. I imagine it’s the word cul – bottom, in English – in there that has town halls come over all prudish.
“It’s a term we use in English that is meaningless to French people or is used differently in French”
Then, of course, there are the faux amis – the words that look or sound alike in English and French but which have different meanings.
To continue the slightly smutty tone of this post, brasserie would be a good example. In English, it sounds like a bra, but for the French, it’s a brewery or a bar that serves food.
Perhaps the most amusing, though, is preservative. For English speakers, this is an additive that extends a food’s shelf life. For the French, however, that would be a conservateur.
Put simply, a préservatif is a condom.
And that isn’t a mistake you would want to make next time you’re doing your weekly shop at Intermarché. That would be a faux pas.