French Friday: Avoir une Autre Langue C’est Posséder une Deuxième Âme

I have some serious competition. My daughter is discovering French expressions à la vitesse grand V or at a very high speed. Even though, I still have une longueur d’avance sur elle or I’m still ahead of her, once in a while she reminds me of an expression I no longer use. The only reason being the limited number of people I speak French with.

It’s a little bit my fault since I did everything I could to avoid French people in my first years in the USA, knowing they would keep me away from improving my English. Then I moved too often to even have time to reach out beyond school, work, and neighbors. And let’s be frank: although there are quite a few French people in the States they don’t really form a community as other foreign-born people do. So in the end, my only regular French interlocutor remains my husband. I lucked out since his French is stellar. But the two of us cannot use an entire dictionary on a regular basis.

This explains how my daughter forwarded me a pretty crude French expression the other day and I had to admit that I had forgotten about it. However, it did remind me of an equivalent, almost as vulgar. I try to exemplify the best of France on my blog, so I will skip them 🙂

Yesterday the same daughter forwarded me a BuzzFeed article about France. There were a few mistakes, mostly due to translation. I sent her a link to the French newspaper Libération, so she could get the facts right.

As I read the French article I noticed the noun amende, which means a fine.

Its homophone amande, spelled with a A, means almond.

A few words then rushed to my mind.

Un trombone in French is both a paper clip and the musical instrument.

Baguette designates both the infamous French bread but means also chopsticks or still a magic wand in baguette magique.

Aïe means ouch, while its homophone ail means garlic.

Un tourniquet can have so many different meanings in French. It can designate a turnstile, a medical tourniquet, a sprinkler that rotates, a revolving display or still a merry-go-round on a playground. The other merry-go-round is also called a carousel from the French noun carrousel. But that’s for another post titled What Happens to French Vocabulary Abroad?

The French Emperor Charlemagne – the one who supposedly created school for French kids – is also supposed to have said that speaking another language is to possess a second soul.

It sounds so pretty in French: Avoir une autre langue c’est posséder une deuxième âme.

Based on my modest experience, I simply wonder if we start paying attention to our native language only when we know at least another one and start to understand our native land only when we’ve left.

In homage to Yosemite and to my kids, who still teach me so much, a photo from the magical park


  1. I like all the meanings of tourniquet. You’ve got me thinking if there are any English words with so many meanings.

  2. That saying does sound so pretty in French. I was happy my rusty French skills still allowed me to understand that saying without having to wait for your translation! 😉

  3. Good to know English isn’t the only language beset by confusing homonyms!

  4. Sadly, I can see France from my apartment balcony but haven’t visited for many years. And my Franglais is shameful. Is it correct to say Evelyne that the French language remains more constant and unchanging, compared to English which seems to expand its vocabulary year by year?

    • It goes both way, Roy. The French language is also evolving, mostly because of the addition of American English words:)
      It started in the early 2000s and the phenomenon won’t stop. Strange sometimes since the meaning is not always exactly the same. And there are of course the natural changes with new slang. This is easy to catch:)
      What’s tricky for me are the translations for high tech vocabulary.
      I have to focus and say mail for email, texto for text and en ligne for online, for example.

  5. A second soul, a second me, a second way of thinking, seeing and interacting with the world…it is fabulous to be able to speak another language.

  6. It’s wonderful that your daughter reminds you of French that you’ve forgotten and that you can help her with her French and point her in the right direction in turn Evelyne.

  7. Great post- and I can definitely relate. Since I don’t live in America, I’m even less up on the slang, so my kids are always teaching me the new expressions. Glad to hear I’m not the only one! And yes, I’ve always agreed with the two languages, two souls … very true.

  8. What a fun post. (And I love the Yosemite pic!)

    It’s so interesting that the same word (or a similar-sounding one) can have multiple meanings. I also like the elegance of French words–“Aïe” seems like a much more genteel way of saying “ouch.” 🙂

  9. Behind the Story says:

    I’ve never learned a foreign language as well as you’ve learned English, but I did know Spanish quite well at one time and I studied Chinese. So I understand what you mean when you say, “speaking another language is to possess a second soul.” It touches my soul to think of it.

  10. Ahh…’ to possess a second soul’… love that. I’ve always been in total awe of you and others I know who are bilingual, and have also always believed that the only way to really get to grips with a foreign language is to live in that foreign country. I love to practice my French when on holiday there, but I grow frustrated at how very much I’ve forgotten – embarrisingly so! My husband, on the other hand, who, unlike me, never studied French at school, seems able to hold long conversations with the locals in French and then tells me he doesn’t know much at all. Some people, I’m convinced, are a natural, like him 😉 Perhaps, at a stretch, I am bilingual in my American English. Despite living back in the UK for 15 years now (I lived in CA for just under 20 years), I use American expressions that I think are English and vice versa. I confuse myself! And then, of course, there are those that I use now and then which I am told by my kids not to, since they now have very rude meanings…I understand your competition with your daughter! Always a pleasure to read you, Evelyne. Have a wonderful rest of the summer! 🙂

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