1. Lady Amalthea
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    Lady Amalthea Member

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    English replacement for a few French words

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Lady Amalthea, Jun 12, 2012.

    Hello there. Um... I need help. I was reviewing a few things I've written, and it seems I am rather prone to writing foreign words in the text. Is this wrong? It escapes me most of the time, because English is not my mother language. In my mind, I'm already writing in a foreign language anyway.

    Well, I need help with a few French words I have written in my text. I don't know whether these words are currently used in English or not. Some of them exist in the thesaurus I am working with, but I am afraid the text is going to be too French sounding. Could you help me find decent English translations for them?

    1) Lorgnettes - "Theater glasses"? "Opera glasses"? Do these words really describe the object I'm referring to? The thesaurus has "binoculars" or "prism binoculars". Aren't those odd?
    2) Ingénue - The closest thing I could find was "babe" (rofl!) or "starlet". I could say "lady in distress", but that is not necessarily in the context of an opera. I could also say "prima donna in distress", but that would be overdoing it a bit.
    3) Soubrette - Young female singer, usually a light soprano with a sweet voice. It is listed as a synonym for "actress" in the thesaurus. Now, that isn't exactly accurate.
    4) Ma biche / Mon quinquin - Very old-fashioned terms of endearment, directed to a woman and a man, respectively. In French, they can be quite romantic. In English, I have no idea. Would you call a woman "my gazelle" and a man "my little munchkin"? Frankly, that last one sounds awful.
    5) "Je ne sais quoi" - Old expression, describing what I believe in contemporary English is the "it" factor. Something hard to describe, that which makes a performer stand out from the others. Could I say that "Sandrine possessed an "I-don't-know-what" that made her the company's most valued singer, not to mention the favorite amongst the young male croud"?
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    1) Lorgnettes - "Theater glasses"? "Opera glasses"? Do these words really describe the object I'm referring to? The thesaurus has "binoculars" or "prism binoculars". Aren't those odd?

    ...not the same thing at all... and the french word is used often in english, though the object itself is archaic... in english, however, it's used in the singular ['a lorgnette'] to refer to eyeglasses that are held up to the eyes by a handle on one side...

    2) Ingénue - The closest thing I could find was "babe" (rofl!) or "starlet". I could say "lady in distress", but that is not necessarily in the context of an opera. I could also say "prima donna in distress", but that would be overdoing it a bit.

    ...ditto above...

    3) Soubrette - Young female singer, usually a light soprano with a sweet voice. It is listed as a synonym for "actress" in the thesaurus. Now, that isn't exactly accurate.

    ...i don't know why it would be, as it only refers to a singer... it's also used in english, but not as often as the two words above...

    4) Ma biche / Mon quinquin - Very old-fashioned terms of endearment, directed to a woman and a man, respectively. In French, they can be quite romantic. In English, I have no idea. Would you call a woman "my gazelle" and a man "my little munchkin"? Frankly, that last one sounds awful.

    ...no, the translations of those terms would not be used in english, nor would the french versions be... you'd best find english endearments to use... fyi, 'biche' would easily be confused with 'bitch' by those who don't know french... and referring to a man as being small would be considered a major insult to his manhood...

    5) "Je ne sais quoi" - Old expression, describing what I believe in contemporary English is the "it" factor. Something hard to describe, that which makes a performer stand out from the others. Could I say that "Sandrine possessed an "I-don't-know-what" that made her the company's most valued singer, not to mention the favorite amongst the young male croud"

    ...this french term is often used by english-speakers... i wouldn't use the translation, as it wouldn't make as much sense...
     
  3. mootz
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    mootz Member

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    I've only ever heard the fifth saying, which is common enough in english to not worry about.
     
  4. Amsterdamatt
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    Amsterdamatt Member

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    The equivalent English phrase for "Je ne sais quoi" is probably "a certain something".
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my vocabulary:

    Ingenue could, IMO, just be used directly, no translation required.

    Lorgnette is perfectly familiar to me, but a fair percentage of your readers won't know what it means. I'm inclined to just use it, ideally introducing the word in context (someone looking through it, rather than someone just dumping it in an evening bag).

    Soubrette is not familiar to me. Unless you need it for atmosphere, I'd find some substitute. You could split the meanings - referring to the woman as a "soprano" in one passage, and somehow communicating that she's young in another. On the other hand, if you're trying to convey a culture here and leaving it out would be just silly in that culture, again try to introduce the word with some context.

    Je ne sais quoi again requires no translation, IMO. If you do decide that the risk of it being misunderstood is unacceptable, don't translate directly - completely rewrite. ("Sandrine possessed a special something, an indescribable aura that made her the company's most valued singer, not to mention the favorite amongst the young male crowd." OK, "aura" is awful, but there must be some other word.)

    The endearments can't, IMO, be translated directly. If your characters _are_ French, just use them. If they're not, find a different endearment. Are these used in public or in private?
     
  6. Estrade
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    Estrade Member

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    1, 2 and 5 were fine for me.

    3 and 4 weren't familiar but you could use either of them without translation, as enough meaning would be supplied by context, I suspect.
     
  7. bsbvermont
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    bsbvermont Active Member

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    I would definitely keep ingénue - it is a wonderful word and fairly well recognized by English speakers (maybe not young adults)...

    Opera glasses work for Lorgnettes, but I would agree with Chickenfreak, that if you want to keep them as lorgnettes, use them in a context that would make the translation unmistakable.

    Soubrette - no respectable translation here that doesn't sound contrived...but like with Lorgnettes, if you introduce the context, you will be teaching your readers some well-needed French.

    For terms of endearment...if you want to switch to English, then sweetie, darling, my honey pie (a little goofy, but not uncommon) If you want to stick with French, I agree that mon biche would be confused with the current colloquialism "my bitch" which is probably not what you want to convey. I think many English speakers are familiar with "Mon cher" or "Ma cherie"... would those work for you?

    Are you familiar with the language forums at word.reference.com ? I use them for French, Spanish and German all the time if I'm not sure about usage. They are GREAT!
     
  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    If your character is a native French speaker, I say leave them in but try to make them clear through the context. 2 and 5 are common enough that English speakers should be familiar with them. Especially with something like #4, the translation is going to be awkward. If the character thinks of someone with this term, leave it in. The translated meaning would be more jarring to a reader and therefore make less sense than the French word.
     

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