French Language notes - June 2019

A l’aise, Blaise... and other names to drop

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Assonance – the resemblance of words, syllables or vowel sounds, and often found in poetry – is a source of several phrases that anyone who grew up in 1970s France might still use today if they wish to be amusing in certain social situations.

It should be added that these phrases might also irritate those who do not understand their ‘ironic’ usage!

Need to convince someone to relax? Try uttering “A l’aise, Blaise”. A l’aise means at ease or comfortable and originated in the 12th century. The phrase is today also kept alive thanks to a wacky Belgian folk troubadour band by that name – needless to say, they are pretty keen on rhyming verse.

Other similar phrases from the Seventies are “Relaxe, Max”, “tranquille Emile”, “Tranquille Bill” and “cool, Raoul”.

First names are used in some other instructive French phrases with quirky undertones. For example, “Fonce, Alphonse!” issues an order for someone to hurry up (fonce in this context means ‘put your foot down’ or ‘hurry up’).

Tu parles, Charles!” is said when expressing agreement, and is translated into English as “You bet!” or “Now you’re talking”, while “Lâcher une Louise” is an innuendo referring to accidental bodily emissions!

Pavement slippery? A simple “Alice, ça glisse,” should give plenty of warning.

One rhyming phrase has even made it into celluloid history: Au hasard, Balthazar! (At random, Balthazar!) is a 1966 tragedy film by Robert Bresson.

Meanwhile, the name Fanny will be familiar to keen boules or pétanque players. Should you capitulate 13-0 in a match you are required to kiss the (usually made of plaster) posterior of a denuded lady – “embrasser Fanny"