petite anglaise

May 22, 2007

French masterclass

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:43 pm

If you have been following this blog for a while, you will be aware of the fact that I am rather irrationally fond of very scientific-sounding French words used to denote common things.

My love of the word podotactile, which can be translated into English with the slightly less elegant “strip along the side of a métro platform that has bumps on that you can feel if you are wearing thin-soled shoes” has already been widely documented.

Peeling the transparent film off a microwave dinner the other day (and yes, I know it’s bad, but believe me, that was one of my better moments, nutritionally, in recent weeks) I was overjoyed to notice that said transparent cover is called an l’opercule, a term which comes from Latin and is also used in neuroscience and botany. Imagine, if you will, that the instructions on your microwave meal asked you to “pull back the operculus”. Would you have any appetite left?

But my favourite new phrase by far is the one used to designate the place where water must be poured into my new steam iron (after old iron was accidentally melted in a freak hob-top incident at the weekend when I tried to cook pasta with a hangover). I give you: l’orifice de remplissage.

I’m looking at it warily right now and I just don’t know if I can.


  1. Go on, petite, fill your orifice! lol

    French is such a fascinating language. I’ve always found it a hundred times more interesting than English. I remember being at school & learning that the word for avocado & lawyer were the same. These kind of things really capture your imagination. The ‘transparent film’ thing isn’t half as elegant in English…

    Comment by Julie — May 22, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  2. “Podotactile” is “vision-impaired tactile paving” in English.

    What does “remplissage” mean?

    Comment by Annie Rhiannon — May 22, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

  3. “Filling”, no?

    Comment by katie — May 22, 2007 @ 4:17 pm

  4. it may have something to do with the fact that most french words (and indeed spanish, italian and portuguese) are from latin and greek, non?

    Comment by edvard moonke — May 22, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

  5. are derived from latin and greek, I mean to say…

    Comment by edvard moonke — May 22, 2007 @ 4:27 pm

  6. Yes.
    Sometimes I wish French wasn’t my first language, I’d like to discover it as a foreigner. English is still fun sometimes. :-)

    Comment by Anna — May 22, 2007 @ 4:28 pm

  7. cooking pasta with a steam iron…?
    how do you do that?

    Comment by charlotte — May 22, 2007 @ 4:34 pm

  8. Serviette for briefcase freaks me out quite regularly.

    My current fave French word (for the sound of it): fraises tagada (strawberry sweeties).

    You’ve gotta love the cumbersome coussins gonflables de sécurité for airbags!

    Comment by Antipo Déesse — May 22, 2007 @ 4:42 pm

  9. Surely an “orifice de vidage” would be even worse…

    Comment by Fritz P. — May 22, 2007 @ 4:52 pm

  10. How to cook a steam iron

    – Unwisely decide to put iron (warm) out of reach of small child by stowing on back cooker hob.
    One day later
    – Have hangover. Not two brain cells to rub together. Decide to make pasta at 11pm.
    – Turn on hob.
    – Go back into bedroom to do important internet surfing while “pasta” safely cooks.
    – Hear strange spitting noise and become aware of toxic fumes of burning plastic (which have somehow escaped attention of smoke alarm).
    – Spend best part of following day trying to detach melted plastic from glass cooker top without scratching it.
    – Live in apartment with pervasive scent of burnt plastic for several days.
    – Find local boy willing to put up damsel in distress until apartment returns to normal.

    Don’t tell my mum. She’ll worry.

    Comment by petite — May 22, 2007 @ 4:53 pm

  11. I give you: l’orifice de remplissage.

    This is most likely Chinese translation into French. Look at where these things are made and you’ll see that when they come from Asia, there are always some hilarious translations. Most instructions now come with 10 or so different translations. You should see my mp3 instruction sheet!

    Comment by rocket — May 22, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

  12. Ho hum! Double Entendres again!!!! How good is a double entendre from a quick witted mind? Nearly as good as a mistaken double entry! [Phnar!]

    So have you been trying to iron your clothes with a kettle since the destruction of your implement? I have a spare, want me to send it over?

    Comment by Jester — May 22, 2007 @ 6:04 pm

  13. “- Live in apartment with pervasive scent of burnt plastic for several days.
    – Find local boy willing to put up damsel in distress until apartment returns to normal.”

    So which did you choose?

    Comment by Hywel Mallett — May 22, 2007 @ 6:05 pm

  14. Ah, the orifice of replenishment :)

    Going back a few days, I’d still prefer Punani over l’orifice de plaisir.


    Comment by oxo — May 22, 2007 @ 6:07 pm

  15. How about “défenestration”……..the act of throwing oneself out of a window!!

    Comment by Debby — May 22, 2007 @ 6:18 pm

  16. So (just in case I ever melt my steam iron or some other plastic item on my glass cooktop — so far I have simply burned a pan into extinction, but you never know), how DID you get the melted plastic off without scratching?

    Comment by Passante — May 22, 2007 @ 6:33 pm

  17. Please be careful and don’t die in a tragic drunken stove accident, especially before your books are published! It would be sad to loose you a la Isadora Duncan, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath just as you are hitting your stride! :)

    Comment by xl — May 22, 2007 @ 6:46 pm

  18. I soaked it with special cleaner over night, then used a plastic spatula, and the point of a not very sharp knife for the stubbornest bits. The glass is nicked if you look at it very close up, but it’s a million times better than I could have hoped for…

    Comment by petite — May 22, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

  19. The hob is just a far too tempting place to put the iron whilst it cools. We do it too.

    I’m secretly glad my constant worries about said activity are no longer unfounded.

    Comment by Tom — May 22, 2007 @ 7:03 pm

  20. One of my fav French words is ‘recto verso’ which means double-sided. For some reason the French word just makes it sound like something completely different!

    Comment by Lucy — May 22, 2007 @ 7:38 pm

  21. Hmm…….I had a similar experience involving a tea kettle that I had forgotten about…….

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — May 22, 2007 @ 8:01 pm

  22. We use defenestration in English, too. And recto verso is used by printing companies – one side of the paper is the recto and the other the verso.

    Comment by londongal — May 22, 2007 @ 8:02 pm

  23. I love “torticolis”- such a lovely way to say “pain in the neck”!

    Comment by Mlle — May 22, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

  24. We are learning a whole new language here!

    Comment by Jean-Luc Picard — May 22, 2007 @ 8:21 pm

  25. On the subject of learning a foreign language beware of Faux Amis (words which seem the same but have different meanings).
    For example I had problems living it down when I confused ‘preservative’ with ‘preservatif’ (condom). .

    Comment by sablonneuse — May 22, 2007 @ 9:25 pm

  26. On a recent trip to the south of France I discovered, to my great delight, that ‘wifi’ is not pronounced ‘why-fie’, as it is in English, but ‘whiffy’ – as in ‘malodorous’ – tee hee! It still makes me and my puerile sense of humour have a good giggle together.

    Comment by Zinnia Cyclamen — May 22, 2007 @ 9:32 pm

  27. L’orifice de remplissage sounds vaguely erotic. Oh yes
    Debby, defenestration can be the act of being thrown out of the window as in the famous ‘defenestration of Prague. Or infamous if you will :-) And isn’t a serviette a napkin? Or has my little French gotten much worse? Alors Cheers

    Comment by Beau — May 22, 2007 @ 10:12 pm

  28. ““Podotactile” is “vision-impaired tactile paving” in English.”

    –Why can’t they just call it a WARNING TRACK like in Baseball??

    Definition: The dirt and finely-ground gravel (as opposed to grass) area bordering the fence, especially in the outfield. It is intended to help prevent fielders from inadvertently running into the fence.

    Comment by Anton — May 22, 2007 @ 10:57 pm

  29. Petite, you could cook more.
    To cook is to live.
    To live is to dance.
    To give up a first for Sasha

    Comment by pmac — May 23, 2007 @ 1:05 am

  30. Wow….just found you today, and I really, really like you, Petite. Hmmmm…what’s the word for that? le crush?

    Comment by Mr WriteNow — May 23, 2007 @ 2:35 am

  31. Surely it is simply “tactile paving.” It may be useful to persons who are visually impaired (and the merely distracted) but the paving itself is not impaired.

    Comment by purple — May 23, 2007 @ 3:32 am

  32. Should I ever have a plastic accident with my cooktop, I’ll come back to you for the name of the “special cleaner” and hope it’s available in the USA!

    Comment by Passante — May 23, 2007 @ 4:37 am

  33. I speak very little French. Enough to get help in trauma, and ask if a beach is safe to swim. Or get a pen. Or catch a plane at the train station. uhhh right, never mind! My favorite “French” phrase is cul de sac. Which we use here for a sort of dead end street. However my lovely French friend says it means more literally “bottom of a sack”. Which reminds me of my medical terminology class and the term Douglas’ cul-de-sac. Which is basically a pouch/sac in the area of the bum (rectum). So now, whenever see the term cul de sac, I think of ass sack. Those poor people, who bought the lovely house, at the end of the safe street, living in an ass sack. Yes French is good. Really really good. Even if I do say priddy, and not pretty. Tell tadpole she’s changing the world though. I’m trying!

    Comment by impy — May 23, 2007 @ 4:44 am

  34. So you actually iron things? I don’t even know whether I possess an iron — it’s so hard to tell what’s lurking in the corners of this flat. It should therefore come as no surprise to you that my favourite French technical (?) instruction is the one you sometimes find on those little bags of salad. Reading it always salves my conscience: “pas la peine de le laver”. Just what I always thought.

    Comment by kitikat — May 23, 2007 @ 8:07 am

  35. Did you
    – Live in apartment with pervasive scent of burnt plastic for several days?
    – Find local boy willing to put up damsel in distress until apartment returns to normal?
    – If so, did he l’orifice de remplissage?

    Comment by AussieGil — May 23, 2007 @ 9:08 am

  36. I am not at liberty to say.

    Comment by petite — May 23, 2007 @ 9:24 am

  37. I really like this part in Cyrano de Bergerac
    Pédant : l’animal seul, monsieur, qu’Aristophane Appelle Hippocampéléphantocamélos Dut avoir sous le front tant de chair sur tant d’os ! …

    Have you ever met or eventually eaten an Hippocampéléphantocamélos ??


    Comment by olivier — May 23, 2007 @ 10:35 am

  38. My favourite French word has always been ‘strapontin’ – it always makes me snigger in a most undignified way. When rather hungover on my first trip to Paris I also thought for several minutes that the instruction not to use them ‘en cas d’affluence’ meant that rich people shouldn’t sit on them…

    Comment by ellie — May 23, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

  39. One word that has fascinated since my arrival in France 18 years ago: Imagine being told by your doctor that you have an urgent need of a cataplasme. Time to check out the medical insurance? It’s a harmless mustard poultice.
    On a similar note (again on arriving in France with very few language skills) being short sighted and using contact lenses I braved the local pharmacy in search of a saline solution to clean my lenses. At the end of the eighties there was a scare concerning potentially cancer causing chemicals that were being added to preserve the quality of the solution. Determined not to be fobbed off with any inferior product and brandishing my meagre french vocabulary I asked the pharmacist ‘Je voudrai un aerosol de solution de sel pour les yeux – MAIS je veux pas de préservatif !’ and to be absolutely sure I repeated the latter assertion several times and in proper Brit fashion to be sure sh’d understood, very loudly.
    Of course I should really have gone to an opticien and used the term conservateur. On seeing the reaction of the young lady behind the counter I realised that something was not quite right.

    Comment by The Architect — May 23, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

  40. J’ai le prepuce d’un bucheron

    Comment by nobby — May 23, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

  41. So would you serve red or white with cooked iron?

    Comment by Jules — May 23, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

  42. Impy:#33. I recently read an estate agent’s advert which said “the house is in the bottom of a bag” .

    Comment by sablonneuse — May 23, 2007 @ 3:38 pm

  43. PA,
    A little late after the fact but, it might have been easier to warm the hob a little. This would loosen the contact surface. You could then gingerly remove the item, that once was an iron, with the plastic spatula. Leaving the encrusted plastic particles on the hob would serve as a reminder to sober-up before indulging in cullinary “faux pas”. (I just love that phrase).

    Hey, 20:20 hindsight is the best vision rating you’ll get here.

    I’ve really enjoyed trying to translate all these “new” words. I’m a little stuck on Hippocampéléphantocamélos. It sounds nasty though!


    Comment by Sodom&Gomorrah — May 23, 2007 @ 3:43 pm

  44. opercule – love it!
    i had absolutely no idea, before i lived in paris, that the little hard curved spotty bits on ladybirds’ backs that open up when they spread their wings had a special name (les elytres). does anyone at all in the uk call them elytra? (mind you it doesn’t crop up in conversation so very much …
    and doesn’t ‘metempsychose’ sound cleverer than reincarnation?

    Comment by rivergirlie — May 23, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  45. Yes, there are a lot of interesting words in French, some of which we have picked up in English. Like embouchure. Embouchure is the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece of a wind instrument. Or it can mean the mouthpiece itself.


    Comment by David — May 23, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

  46. No. 1 outgoing link from Petiteanglaise today:

    I don’t drink, but I can be pretty groggy in the morning. My specialty is to put pot/kettle on stove, light element on stove, observe pot/kettle, wonder why pot/kettle not apparently heating: move pot/kettle onto the lit element.

    Comment by Damian — May 23, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

  47. no doubt “Al dente”

    Comment by Sid Blankenship — May 23, 2007 @ 5:49 pm

  48. I like “l’ordinateur” for computer and “la poubelle” for dustbin. But I’d definitely not use the iron for cooking pasta again.

    Comment by Sally Lomax — May 23, 2007 @ 6:16 pm

  49. Bonsoir!
    Vous m’avez appris un mot ce soir! Podotactile!!!! Pourtant je suis prof de lettres. Française en plus! Mais c’est vrai que c’est une jolie langue! Ah le Français!
    Bye Petite Anglaise! See you soon

    Comment by Audrey — May 23, 2007 @ 7:54 pm

  50. So if you like scientific-sounding French words you might like: la vacuole (I don’t even remember what it is!), or also : un axe antéropostérieur (I think it’s the invisible line that divides bodies symmetrically).
    I’m a french student, I’m learning English and I try to write a blog in English so if you could read me I would be very flattered!
    See ya

    Comment by prixsurdemande — May 23, 2007 @ 9:45 pm

  51. This one is definately unscientific sounding but I definately can’t get hang of “Crapahuter”To toad??
    French OH was politely explaining at a first meeting with my Midlands family(in 1980’s)in hesitant English that he liked to go out to “crap”in the garden!!It seems he meant something like “stroll” but Ican’t remember ever hearing it again.Maybe it was one of those Baba Cool words from the70’s like “Vachement Chouette” which I never hear either anymore??

    Comment by Carol — May 24, 2007 @ 1:20 am

  52. The top of absurd scientific-sounding administrative french terms : “plaque minéralogique”! What geology has to do with a car’s number plate?

    Comment by Dan Dx — May 24, 2007 @ 3:47 am

  53. Any peripatetic nurses visiting France should be careful how they introduce themselves to the locals. Of course, some would say that the péripatéticienne also offers comfort and succour…

    Amused by faux amis (false friend words) such as “double entendre”, which is apparently not used by the French.

    Amused too, (when in more scabrous mood), by the endless nudge-nudge, wink-wink possibilities offered by the expression “pratiquer la langue”.

    Admiring of the tortuous inventivity of the French and Québecois in particular, faced with pressure to gallicise English neologisms : (mél being the only example I can think of offhand. Un mél, or “message électronique” is of course an email message. Too bad that the less incisive “courriel” had a headstart on the road to official acceptance.)

    Embarrassed and delighted by the frivolous use by the French of the English word “fuck” in the most inappropriate situations. (Serge Gainsbourg saying “I want to fuck you” to Whitney Houston on live TV being the epitome (although perhaps not eligible as Gainsbarre probably did it on purpose) (My theory is that many French people equate “fuck” with their use of the word “merde” which raises few eyebrows in any echelons of society).

    As a translator, I would just like to take my hat off to the translators of Astérix, and, working in the other direction, the translators of the Animaniacs cartoon series, for doing a stunning job in the face of a seemingly insurmountably challenging pile of puns, gags and double-entendres

    Voilà mon grain de sel du jour

    Comment by Ajay — May 24, 2007 @ 9:20 am

  54. #48 Sally : My S.O. has just told me that the word poubelle is an eponym. It was the Préfet Eugène Poubelle who institutionalised the refuse collection system (in 1883, thank you Google) in Paris.
    Nice try Eugène, but my vote still goes to Thomas Crapper for his flush toilet…

    Comment by Ajay — May 24, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  55. Dactylographie.

    Comment by MIlo Busbecq — May 24, 2007 @ 6:38 pm

  56. Introducing “La Vitrophanie”…

    …which rather disappointly turns out to be nothing more stimulating than a collective noun for point-of-sale advertising decals…

    Comment by Ajay — May 25, 2007 @ 12:12 am

  57. To Dan Dx
    Your number plates are issued by the Department of Mining – why I haven’t yet felt bored enough to find out.

    It’s part of the French psyche NEVER to say anything simply when a complicated word can suffice.

    As a down to earth sort of bod I always preferred German where 1 word, nomatterhowlongitis, will do.

    Comment by j — May 25, 2007 @ 7:47 am

  58. #53
    Mister Ajay,
    Ah non, là, je dois protester..
    «Mél» comme example de créativité linguistique?!?
    Si vous n’aviez pas ensuite dénigré l’alternative, j’aurais laissé passer. Mais enfin, entre courriel et mél, le choix est clair: soit un anglicisme lourd et bâtard, soit un mot .. léger, cristallin.
    -de la musique, avant toutes choses-
    Sur ce, pauvre étudiante que je suis, je retourne à mes culs-de-sac vésico et recto-utérins de merde, qui sont la poubelle de l’organisme. C’est beau la médecine :) Hyper chouette!

    Un petit mot quand même pour vous, Petite Anglaise: merci infiniment pour vos blogs, j’adore vous lire.

    Comment by Aliixxx — May 25, 2007 @ 9:14 am

  59. Are you au fait with ‘onirique’ or are you just dreaming? Are you playfully ‘ludique’?
    Which illusionist said ‘abracadantesque’ and which same disappearing act wished it would just go ‘pschitt’?
    And why can’t a horse be ‘chevaleresque’ although it could be ‘équine’ at a ‘club hippique’?
    Is it just me or did I hear you ‘érgosiller’?

    Comment by Parkin Pig — May 25, 2007 @ 1:27 pm

  60. Oh pschitt, that should read ‘égosiller’!

    Comment by Parkin Pig — May 25, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

  61. How do I find lens solution for gas permeable contact lenses? What is it called in French? Brand names? I can only find plain saline solution. I figure this must be one of those odd names that I have no clue!

    Comment by Elle — May 25, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

  62. Aliixx, c’est sûr que “courriel” obéit a un certain logique (et si je ne jouais pas l’avocat du diable je lui admettrais bien un certain charme ^^). Ce mot ne pue pas l’interventionisme, contrairement à “aplatisseuse” au lieu de “bulldozer”, par exemple). Perso, concernant “mél”, j’aime bien l’idée d’un compromis entre les techno-branchés qui auraient du mal à renoncer à “mail”, et les puristes qui mourraient avant de recourir aux anglicismes.
    Je lui trouve un petit côté “clin d’oeil” sympathique, même si je suis d’accord avec vous que dans l’absolu, le mot “mél” a une sale tête hihi.
    Enfin bon, n’étant pas francophone je n’ai pas franchement mon mot à dire (ce qui ne m’empêche pas d’habitude ;-) ). Bravo en tout cas d’avoir défendu le patrimoine de Molière !

    Comment by Ajay — May 25, 2007 @ 3:48 pm

  63. J, At a time when many in France are still poring over a seemingly endless series of feuillets, volets and rubriques that stack up into a tax return, your words:
    “It’s part of the French psyche NEVER to say anything simply when a complicated word can suffice.”
    ring particularly true.

    Comment by Ajay — May 25, 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  64. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

    Comment by Abraham — May 26, 2007 @ 12:22 am

  65. You’re quite the femme dangereuse these days, Petite…I see those fumes made it all the way into your inbox and wrought havoc with your readers (normally such a well bred bunch ;)

    All this talk of man-eating punanis and melting orifices can come to no good, my dear. Just look
    at what you’ve done to the South Park rugrats on your evite: once(somewhat)proud American degenerates in training,they appear eager to chain smoke Galoises,
    slug Absinthe straight from the bottle and flirt shamelessly and with a distressingly louche air
    avec les femmes au picnic au naturel…

    Has no one ever warned you about stirring the natives?

    Then again, you do it so well!

    Comment by belle — May 26, 2007 @ 7:57 am

  66. Love it!

    Comment by Lost in France — May 26, 2007 @ 9:45 am

  67. I have the same affection/affliction for Frenchie vocab. A mad obsession.
    I wrote a whole post on FRAISE TAGADA
    Could maybe write a book on it…

    Comment by ParisBreakfasts — May 26, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  68. English is such a fascinating language. All it is is French poorly spoken. It just goes to show what can happen once you are really willing to just… let go.

    Comment by Tom — May 28, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

  69. it’s actually called an “operculum” in english, not “operculus”. this word describes the little ‘door’ that some snails have… it seals the opening of a snail’s shell. if you go beachcombing somewhere in the tropical indo-pacific, you will probably find some – they’re really common.

    Comment by riviera mermaid — May 28, 2007 @ 6:50 pm

  70. I have recently come across the term “crapauduc”, which is already hilarious in French.

    Care to guess anyone ? A warning note, it is not a dirty word.

    Comment by Dura Lex, Sed Lex — May 29, 2007 @ 8:19 pm

  71. To post 57 and whoever was asking a question about the “plaques minéralogiques” (license plates).

    This comes from the fact that in the early XXth century, the French governement asked the “Services des Mines” (literally: the Mining department) to devise a “logical” system to register motor vehicles by license plates.

    They came up with the numbering system digit+digit +letter+letter + department number that you can see today.

    Hence: Mines + logique = minéralogique.

    Voilà !

    Comment by Dura Lex, Sed Lex — May 29, 2007 @ 8:55 pm

  72. Ain’t nuttin’… ahem … there is nothing like québecois or cajun French in the way of completely “cinglé” vocabulary. You’ve got to love a country where a “char” is not drawn by horses but by a rather ordinary motor, where “gosses” is not a slang term for “enfants”, but for, well, a male’s family jewels (et je reste poli!). Or where cutlery is called “les ustensiles”. Comme disait l’autre: un joyeux bordel… au sens figuré (francais; god only knows what that last word means in québecois) :-D.

    Comment by mbast — May 30, 2007 @ 12:26 am

  73. i have to write 33 french words…name some!

    Comment by Shaun Mitchell — May 30, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

  74. #73 Here are a few to get you started :
    un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six…


    Comment by Ajay — May 31, 2007 @ 8:33 am

  75. Cooking pasta with a hangover….hmm, pasta with clams, check, pasta with smoked sausage, check, pasta with tomatoes and chilli, check, but nope, never done pasta with hangover.

    Clearly one of those recipes that makes a mess of the stove-top, however.

    Comment by Rob — June 1, 2007 @ 12:55 am

  76. The top of absurd scientific-sounding administrative french terms : “plaque minéralogique”! What geology has to do with a car’s number plate?

    Comment by voixdethailande — June 1, 2007 @ 6:20 am

  77. Were you a “primo-accédante” or just a first time buyer?

    Comment by parkin pig — June 1, 2007 @ 10:17 am

  78. Riviera Girl:
    Ammonites had an operculum (pl. opercula) as well. Further proof that French still hadn’t been invented one hundred million years ago.

    Latin was the lingua franca then.

    Comment by Roads — June 2, 2007 @ 8:27 pm

  79. Cool.

    Comment by Orion — June 15, 2007 @ 9:53 am

  80. Nice!

    Comment by Milos — June 20, 2007 @ 11:44 pm

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