France part Dinkum: Professor, what’s another name for pirate treasure?

(Originally published on my old LiveJournal.)

Parlez-Moi, with Sol

“Professor, what’s another name for pirate treasure?”
“Well, I think it’s booty… booty… booty… That’s what it is!”

My Ontario high school French held up tolerably well in France. I was able to ask for directions, order in restaurants, and politely inform one stupid American woman in the airport that “19.08” was not the price of the sandwich she wanted to buy (“Nineteen DOLLARS for a SANDWICH? Is that REAL dollars or FRENCH dollars?”) but the day’s date. (The real price was clearly marked in LARGE BLOCK LETTERS.) Oh, and when Pitou ruined the picnic by stealing Mama’s poulet, I was all set.

I was thrown a curve, however, by our little Lonely Planet phrase book. Like any English to French phrase book, it listed words and phrases in English, in French, and then in a phonetic approximation of the French pronunciation. Simple enough, right? But any time we used the book we were met with uncomprehending stares.

It was bouteille, the French word for “bottle,” that finally tipped us off. I knew thought it was pronounced “boo-tye,” the second syllable sounding like “Thai” or “tie,” with a little bit of an “ayee” at the end if you’re feeling frisky. But Lonely Planet gave the pronunciation as “boo-tay.” I felt just a little funny calling for bootay in a fancy restaurant.

[Edit: Note schooling me on French pronunciation in comments below. Grumble grumble big shot Manitobans think they’re so great…]

What I’d forgotten when I bought the book was that Lonely Planet is an Australian company. The phonetics were written for Aussie accents. “Boo-tay,” rhymes with “g’day,” actually is a pretty good approximation of bouteille. Once we’d cracked that Rosetta Stone (and when I say “we”, I mean “Lisa”), we could see that the whole phrasebook was like that: ‘ay’ for ‘aye’ and ‘r’s on the end of everything except the few places they belonged: “ler” for le, “der” for de, “zher per” for je peux. So the book wasn’t worthless to us, but we did have to channel Crocodile Dundee while reading it, a tricky bit of cognitive processing that led me to walk into more than a few lamp posts and open manholes.


  1. Holy crap. Early morning educational French programming on PBS. What fresh mime-demon hell have you dug from my grade school sick-day subconscious?

  2. Oh my God. It just occurred to me; all of those morning educational programming shows that I watched during sick days in grade school were TVOntario productions, weren’t they? Tell me there’s a website. Please.

  3. And, of course, in my half-asleep state, I did not click on the picture. Oh thank you. This is better than five hot fudge sundaes.

  4. The picture of Sol is a link – which you’ve by now discovered. And at the bottom of that page is a link to more more more TVO goodness.

  5. Wow. Just… wow. I might just need to marry you for this one. Like strange fish crawling from the mud-caked riber bottom of my memory… so are the kids of the Herbertville Chronicle.

    And then there was the “Tomorrow People” on Nickelodeon back in, oh, ’82? ’83? Cheesy special effects and weird sci-fi stories: I think these shows made me the man I am today.

  6. I must raise ze quizzical eyebrow (a French feat I can only perform in print). For though your Aussified theory may be correct, “bouteille” in Parisian French is most certainly pronounced “boo-tay”, unless you are speaking in some (mon Dieu) Quebec accent.

    eil/eille = ay like day, e.g. conseille, recueil, réveille, vieille, accueille; but

    ail/aille = ai like die, e.g. ail, travail, bataille

    By zees I see zat le Manitoba c’est plus près de Paris que l’Ontario. . .

    . . . vant to come back to my place, Bouncy Bouncy?

  7. Holy shit! Sol! I can even remember the theme song! Good times. Nice, insanely obscure CanCon reference.

  8. Tomorrow People SO rocked! I still like to call teleporting “jaunting” and developing mental powers “breaking out.”

    Okay, who do I need to talk to in order to get the rights to do a Tomorrow People d20 Modern book?

  9. Thames Television I think? While you’re at it you can work on the Benny Hill license.

  10. Chalice Tabernacle! I wondered if anybody was going to call me on the Quebec accent question, which, if I was ever to practice enough to lose my atrocious Anglo accent, I’m sure would lurk below. Because I’m ashamed to say I’ve been pronouncing bouteille rhyming not quite with “die” but more like an Aussie’s “g’day” than like Fonzie’s “Ayyyy.” And I know my “oui” sounds more like a duck quacking than like the English plural 1st person pronoun. I guess I could have stuck with the “zhers” and “lers” to make the point, but that would have robbed me of the chance to make the Beastie Boys Professor Bootay reference. These posts are intricate webs of references and allusions, you jackals! It ain’t all digging up pictures of lovable yet frightening hobo clowns!


  11. Mysterious Canadian TV! Yikes!

    So why in the third picture, when it explains who’s playing Sol, is Sol spelled with all capital letters?

    In my South of the Border culturally backward ways, I totally misread it as “is S.O.L.”

  12. Hee. I like that. A hobo clown (are those un-PC yet?) named S.O.L. And then the episode titles become S.O.L. at the Dentist, S.O.L. at the Clockmaker’s., S.O.L. at the Swinger’s Party… Story of my life, man.

  13. S.O.L. at the Swinger’s Party

    I need to see that episode. I bet a lot of French phrases from that one could come in handy.

    What’s French for Shit Out of Luck? Idiomatically, naturally.

  14. The episode that just sticks. in. my. head. is the one where the TP are “undercover” at a school where people are handing out these square badges, some blue and some green. And they seem to psychically cause gang warfare to break out, depending on what color you are. (I wonder if JMS stold this for Babylon 5? Anyway.) It was so creepy to watch the hero TP get sucked into this psychic gang warfare manipulation, I guess it just stayed with me.

  15. I guess you were lucky to just see Sol’s french lessons, because in his one man shows, the character is a mean, lean, punning machine ! I don’t kid you : his shows are filled with high flying puns and linguistics contortions. I got to admit, I never would have thought to see Marc Favreau on an english LJ…

  16. his shows are filled with high flying puns and linguistics contortions…

    “are filled” – present tense? Is Sol still out there doing his thing in the 21st Century? Please supply info!

    I got that impression (all the puns and linguistic contortions) when I was Googling to find that picture of Sol/Favreau. Of course, I could hardly appreciate the French wordplay when I watched the show as an anglophone kid – which actually makes him a weird choice to teach kids how to speak French, come to think of it.

    p.s. Hi! Thanks for commenting! Who are you?

  17. Hi. I post as “anonymous” because I don’t have a LJ account. Maybe some day…

    And, yes, Marc Favreau is still alive, and does shows from time to time. I’m a french speaking québecois and I can say that his puns can be hard to follow, VERY hard to follow. I would like to give you some exemples, but :

    1- As you said, puns are rarely understandable in an other language

    2- All of his puns are in context. Everything he say in his shows have meaning in the context of the monologues. That mean he dosen’t pun to get a quick laugh, but because the whole thing must make sense. Strangly, it works !

    Some, if not all, of Favreau/Sol shows are on CD, since the shows are rather basic : a garbage can is usually the only thing on the scene, beside Sol. The puns do the rest 🙂

    As for the the french courses, I can really comment about them, but I know Marc Favreau did a TV comedy duo in the 1970’s were Sol was teamed with an other clown, but I don’t know the number of puns per minutes in this show.

    I hope this is helpful.

  18. Hi again! The Anonymous Guy now have a name !

    Just got my LiveJournal account. It got some very basic info on me, but it will be uptaded in the next few days…

  19. Un autre converti! Bienvenue au Livejournal. J’espère que vous appréciez votre sejour.

    (S’il y a des problèmes avec mon Français, blâment Sol… 🙂 )

  20. Little mistake :

    “As for the the french courses, I can’t really comment about them…”

  21. That’s what I figured. No correction is necessary. Your English is far better than my French (but I expect that’s true for virtually all Quebecois).

    What I am curious about, though, is how you happened upon my LiveJournal post in the first place. Were you Googling for Marc Favreau?

  22. First, thanks on my written english.

    How did I saw your LJ account ? Simple : I read the LiveJournal posts of Kenneth Hite from time to time, and I stumbled upon your post and Favreau’s picture in his Friends section. It was a nice suprise to see this picture.

  23. Quel Bruit!
    Maman : Jean, Paul, vous regardez la tele, vous deux?
    Jean et Paul : Non Maman,nous etudions le francais.
    Maman :Alors, qui Regardes la tele?
    Jean et Paul : C’est Marie.
    Marie : Qui, Maman, mais j’etudie les maths aussi.

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