Kathleen’s Five-Minute Writing Tip
Ooh La La: Spelling in French
I don’t speak French, but I love the sound of French being spoken or sung. Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet are on my Pandora list. I don’t understand a word they sing, but their voices soothe my fragile nerves whenever I hear the chainsaws chewing up the forest near my home.
Even though I don’t know the language, I use many French words in my writing that are common in our English lexicon. The trouble is, I can never spell them correctly, and wouldn’t be able to do so even if you held a pistolet to my head. I feed these misspellings into my spell-check so often, I’m surprised it hasn’t shut down.
Here are a few of my favorite French words:
Rendezvous: Because this word is pronounced ron- day-voo, and the “z” and “s” are silent, I always have trouble getting past the second letter. As for the rest of the word: forget it.
Maître d’: I can handle the circumflex over the “i,” but what’s with that dangling “d” and the apostrophe following it? I would spell it Metra Dee. I like the way it looks on paper. Someday, I just might use it as the name of a character in a book. He’d own a French restaurant called the Ron-day-voo.
Hors d’oeuvre: In this word, the “h” and “s” are both silent and the second “r” is pronounced quickly after the “d.” It sounds like “dirvre” . . . as in dirt. Instead, the “r” comes almost at the end. No wonder the French are famous for their Gallic shrugs.
Bouillabaisse: One of my favorite dishes. If this dish were not written on the menu and I had to spell it for my supper, I’d have to fill up on bread.
Bourgeois: This lovely-sounding word means the French middle class. It makes them sound a bit risque. (I stumbled on this one, too) and daring. I can get the first five letters down, but no matter how correctly I pronounce the last syllable, “eois,” spelling it correctly just doesn’t happen.
Pot-pourri: I hear the first syllable and I think of Edgar Allen. But how would I know there are two “r’s” in “pourri” and what’s with the hyphen preceding this second syllable? I would spell it Poepouri — no hyphen.
One French word I have no trouble spelling is Pernod, even though the “d” is silent. I like to think I can spell it because I love the liqueur (I get that one right, too). Truth is, it’s easy for me to spell because it only has six letters, no accent marks, no hyphens, and no danglers.