The Trouble with Homonyms

I've been thinking a good bit about language recently. For one thing, I've been in two non-English countries in the past month. As my last post indicated, I visited Edmund in Mexico, and now I'm in France. We have been coming to the same place in France for five years now, and I've been trying to pick up some French. For one thing, relatively few people here speak much of any English, and for another I think it is unreasonable to expect other people to speak English when you go to their country. It's one thing if you are only there for a few days, and you are only going to heavily touristed areas, but it's quite another to live there, even if only for a few weeks.

Each year I've picked up a bit more French, and I haven't forgotten everything in the intervening months, but at the current rate I figured I would speak reasonable French about the time I celebrated my 100th birthday. So I decided to take pursue a more aggressive program. I realize that I will never speak French with sublety or grace, but I would at least like to be able to pose simple questions and understand the answers without undue difficulties.

So I decided I needed some help, and turned to, naturally, the App Store. There are some number of French aides, and I chose several, which have been more or less helpful. The undisputed winner is the Collins Dictionary - it's absolutely brilliant. It's expensive for an app, but worth every penny.

But since this wasn't meant to be an advertisement for the App Store, I'll return to the matter at hand. Tony's mother is visiting us (in France) for a few days, and we decided to go to the new Pompidou Centre in Metz. Con and I had done a fair amount of walking already that day, and so as we walked back to the bus stop Con claimed Tony's arm for a bit of assistance. She apologized for monopolizing him as she did so, and I told her that she was more than welcome to his assistance. "After all," I stated firmly, "you bore him..." and as I paused for breath before continuing my statement I saw her flash me a startled look. As I finished my thought "...and therefore he owes you" I saw her look change and she burst into laughter. It was my turn to be startled, until I realized that the problem was a misinterpretation of the word "bore."

Of course, it's this sort of thing that drives me crazy as I try to learn French - words that look the same but mean something quite different, or conversely words that look different but turn out to be the same word, thus embroiling one in the murky depths of conjugation, tense, or gender. And as my story demonstrates, it's easy enough to get into misunderstandings, even in your native tongue, even with no malice aforethought on the part of either party.

In closing, I note that the French term for 'mother-in-law' is "belle-mere" - "beautiful mother." The English term is quite precise, the French rather poetic. I guess it all boils down to 'Chacun à son goût'.'

Comments

Belle-mere, I can picture that

Belle-mere, I can picture that all happening. Funny! Kelly