Sapristi!** How sadly neglected, this space.

The new Tintin film is here and several companies have appropriated the film's language to advertise toys and other merchandise on posters around town. Spielberg's film is in English, so Hergé's French has been transmogrified once more into the "Blistering barnacles!" and other vivid expressions that we've known since the first Tintin translations, comic books, and TV shows. Anyway, the film is great fun.

The expressions used by Tintin, Captain Haddock et al are not typically used in France, of course, but it's been a delight to discover that others one has read in books are still employed in everyday life.

For example, I've been so pleased to find that people do really say Oh-la-la! I've heard it in a variety of situations, once by an elegant elderly lady when nearly pushed off the pavement by a skateboarding youth, and just yesterday by a waitress at a café when I asked her what kinds of tea she had--she wasn't a regular waitress and was just lending a hand, so the question flummoxed her--Oh-la-la, tea? I haven't the faintest idea, I'll have to ask the owner.

People also still say dis donc! or dites donc!  --literally "say then" and meaning "fancy that!" or "goodness me!" or "you don't say!" One hears it on the street quite often as people talk to each other. I haven't yet heard sacrebleu! or zut! to name a couple of expressions I learnt years ago. Well, perhaps even then sacrebleu! was old-fashioned, because now it's marked in Robert & Collins as archaic; zut is not thus designated, however, so should still be in use--I'll keep my ears open.

What one does hear a lot is merde and many variations thereof, as well as chier, to crap, and expressions using it such as ça me fait chier! "It pisses me off!" or, "It's a pain in the arse!" And I am sure there are many other vulgar expressions I'm simply not recognizing, because they are used much more now than when I was in France at sixteen and seventeen.

Exclamations, expressions, and swear words represent one of the greatest difficulties for a foreign speaker of any language: one doesn't know exactly how they sound and feel to the natives. One doesn't have an accurate sense for what linguists call their "register," which is why Robert & Collins kindly append one asterisk for "informal language," two for "very informal language," and three for "offensive language."

For example, the word foutre always confuses me, because I thought it was the same as "f**k," but it turns out that's not really the case. In some usages--for example, je suis foutu, "I'm screwed," it has pretty much lost its sexual connotations and is far milder than "the f word."  (On the other hand, it must be admitted that my own sense of register for "the f word" is probably very much out of date; it still has shock value for me and still seems very strong, but it's used so often by so many people these days that I suspect its register has shifted.) But I'm afraid to use foutre because I'm just not sure enough about how it sounds.

Then baiser, which means "to kiss" and is still used thus, also has a sexual meaning--three asterisks in Robert & Collins--translated by "to screw, to f**k, to lay." So I am terrified of using it is its first sense.

Ciel! Mais c'est difficile, le français! And how I love it.

* Not chopped beef, but an exclamation--Drat! Darn it! or sometimes, Wow!
**Good heavens!