Day 45, September 8th: the best French words for animals

Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2eq): 2,335 kilos (still working on it though…)
Sigurðar saga fóts: 175/252

Canadian national parks turn out to be great places to pick up French vocab. Alas, I haven’t actually spoken any French here beyond the odd ‘merci’ or ‘pardon’—my own fault for not going over to Quebec of course—but government signage is a great opportunity for bilingual fun. I’ve been making an effort to learn all sorts of words, but the animal words are the best. Here’s my top five!

5. Striding in with top etymology points is l’ours-grizzli ‘grizzly bear’. I like it when Latin words do not get too badly mangled in French, and ours < ursus is a nice example. I also always enjoy English loanwords in French, and I especially like it when French loan-words in English get reborrowed back into French. Thus Old French gris ‘grey’ (itself possibly a Germanic loan-word) > Old French/Middle English grisel ‘greyish, roan’ > early modern English grizzly ‘greyish, flecked with grey’ > modern French ours-grizzli ‘gizzly bear’.

4. The low-brow but irresistable spermophile ‘ground squirrel’. Okay, I know it really means ‘nut-lover’, but it’s not like that helps…

3. An old faithful, but one whose wacky charm is guaranteed to go undimmed either by familiarity or the passage of time: oiseau ‘bird’. ‘Michel, ne derange pas les oiseaux!’ shouts a Quebecoise mother, losing all hope of gravitas at the final hurdle. How could Mr. Oizo have chosen any other name?

2. Back to Canada-specific names for number two: le mouflon! ‘Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep’. What a genius word: a woollier, wifflier version of the more familiar mouton. How did I not know about this before?! And even better: although the signage round here translates mouflon as ‘mountain sheep’, it has been loaned into English! Yes, it is indeed possible to say, par exemple, ‘Excuse me, my good sir, I appear to have lost my mouflons. And I don’t know where to find them. Would you be so good as to advise me as to how I might best expedite their return?’ Mesdames et messieurs, les mouflons!

1. But stealing the show for all-round Canadian-French spaciness: Le WAPITI! Or ‘elk’. ‘Pardonnez-moi, monseiur: est-qu’il y a un WAPITI ici?’ ‘Mais oui, mon ami, les WAPITIS sont là-bas!’ ‘Alors! C’est un WAPITI! Merci beaucoup, monsieur!’ ‘C’est rien. J’aime bien les WAPITIS aussi!’

And just in case this has whetted your appetite for more Canadian French, I feel beholden to link to a bit of Têtes à claques. Admittedly I haven’t actually seen this while I’ve been here in Canada, knowing it instead from citizens of the Fifth Republic, who seem to derive as much amusement from the Quebequois accent as from the actual content. But it’s worth it whether or not you speak any French, if only for the experience…

About alarichall

http://www.alarichall.org.uk
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2 Responses to Day 45, September 8th: the best French words for animals

  1. The noble wapiti is subject of one of Ogden Nash’s shortest poems:

    There goes the wapiti
    Hippey-hoppety

    so I guess they are known outside Canada and in English also. There was even a Westland Wapiti flown by the RAF between the wars. Truly it is an internationally bemusing animal.

    • alarichall says:

      Wow dude, good wapiti knowledge! Who knew? Actually, it would be useful if we made more use of it, because it turns out that ‘elk’ as applied to North American mammals means something totally different to its application to European mammals. I might have to start a campaign to expand the use of _wapiti_ in English…

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