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An accent can change a French word’s meaning, even in the coffee aisle

Avoid this language faux-pas and look out for accents that make all the difference

Take notice of accents on French words, they often change the meaning Pic: nito / Shutterstock

Unsurprisingly, not many French children drink coffee at breakfast time (or any other time, come to think of it). 

They prefer a bol (bowl) of lait au chocolat (hot chocolate) or jus de fruit (fruit juice) to whet their morning whistle. 

Tea is a no-no, too – as we know, the French might enjoy a tisane or three but builder's tea is not really on their radar. 

So obviously, any knowledge of coffee making or purchasing terms comes with age and evolving tastes.

Read more: North France: Is cheese really dunked in coffee at breakfast?

Read more: Are your taste buds turning French? You share your thoughts

Surprise in the coffee aisle

However, even the lowest level café aficionado, of any age, would have baulked at my linguistic blind spot/faux-pas during a recent browse down the coffee aisle (rayon) at the local hypermarché.

Skimming past the usual café moulu (ground coffee) suspects – Brésil (Brazil), Ethiopie (Ethiopia), Guatemala, Pérou (Peru) and Mexique (Mexico), as well as the increasingly common "décaféiné" (decaffeinated), imagine my surprise to see that nowadays, Corsica had joined the realms of major coffee growers. 

I checked again – yes, the packet definitely had the word "Corse" (French for Corsica) written across the central label. 

The tiny accent made a world of difference

I know France is no stranger to global warming effects but surely the Mediterranean French island is not yet designated 'tropical' – the climate that coffee needs to thrive?

I removed my glasses in comic, double-take surprise to take a closer look. 

Then I spotted the tiny acute accent placed above the last letter so the word read 'Corsé', not Corse. 

The penny dropped – I looked it up and found that it means a pokier, more powerful coffee 'dose' for an espresso machine.

The moral of the story – don't just read the small print, read the accents too. 

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