False Friends

Among the pitfalls in learning French are what is known as “faux amis” (false friends) – that is, words that sound as if they ought to mean the same thing in English and French, but don’t. Like librairie, which is a bookstore, not a library. Or photographe, which is a photographer, not the camera image. Assister doesn’t mean to assist but to attend.Confection is garment making, not a bonbon. And so on.

However, if you have a sense of humour of a certain type, it is possible to exploit English-French confusions for a peculiar type of Franglais pun.

We found out about this when a friend snapped up a box of cocktail napkins labelled “Fractured French.” Each one shows a Franglais cartoon with a caption.

The French captions sometimes require you to mispronounce the French words the way an English speaker might (so, for example, “S’il vous plaît” comes out like “silver plate”). Sometimes, you need a pronunciation somewhere between English and French (“Marseillaise” becomes “My mother says yes”). Sometimes the pun is not Franglais at all, but a joke involving two similarly pronounced French words and a certain amount of 1940s stereotyping (“Mal de mer” becomes a terrifying mother-in-law).

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