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French hugs & kisses

*Simon van Alphen by Nicolaes Maes
While digging around for the fine distinctions in French between embrasser (which should be "embrace" but sometimes means "kiss"), baiser (don't ask!), bisous, calîn, etc., I found this highly useful note in an old WordForum:


As I see it, the confusion about kissing and hugging got started in the 17th century. The exquisite preciosity (and hypocrisy) of the Versailles courtisans - who called teeth "the furnishings of the mouth", for example - made it popular among them to describe having sex with someone as "kissing" them. It was less crude, but more ambiguous too, and it soon lost its euphemistic sense and became a word just as rude as f---. The result is that, until today, if you say that a couple is baise-ing, it means they are fucking, et point finale!

This expropriation, however, created a need for a substitute to describe the simple act of kissing someone, now that “baiser” had been irretrievably expropriated for another purpose. The solution created even more confusion - the verb "embrasser", to embrace, began to be used (or misused) instead.

The result of all this is that in current French one has to find all sorts of round-about ways of describing these simple acts. For example, to say "I want to kiss you", you can choose between "Je veux t'embrasser" or – curiously - "Je veux te donner un baiser", since the noun did not meet the same fate as the verb.

“I want to hug you” is even worse, since this gesture is not very French and, what with “embrasser” now meaning “to kiss”, has to be described in detail: "Je veux t'entourer des bras", "Je veux t'enlacer", or still "Je veux te serrer dans mes bras". Curiously again, the noun retains its original meaning – the seldom used “une embrassade” still means “an embrace”.

It's a lot simpler in English - and in Spanish with "besar", "abrazar" and "abrazo" - but that is the state to which the French mania for "la délicatesse et la discrétion" has led them and their beautiful tongue. It's one of the reasons that immigrants find it so difficult to learn French, and even leads native-born youngsters to butcher their own language and stuff it with English words. The alarming result is not just the much-decried "franglais" but a kind of pidgin which is inexorably forcing out the 17th century form of the language which we, who have laboriously learned it, still speak.

The proof that this last statement is true, whereas current English has immeasurably evolved over the last few centuries, is that the plays of Racine and Corneille are still clearly understandable to us, while those of Shakespeare are a minefield of misunderstandings that cannot be read without footnotes.

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
_stranger_here
Nov. 15th, 2013 03:19 pm (UTC)
I love it. "...this gesture is not very French".
negothick
Nov. 15th, 2013 04:47 pm (UTC)
Aaand inquiring minds want to know: What is the current slang for a "French kiss"?
Thank you for the glimpses of your p'tit village. It seems deserted. Ou sont les gens? Are there cats? Do you think of Blackwood's "Ancient Sorceries"?
ellen_kushner
Nov. 15th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
So glad you like the FB photos! I was wondering the same thing myself: Where is everyone?? Where are the kids playing down by the river without supervision, eh?

I suspect a lot of the houses are owned by weekenders & summer folk, I do. And that the lousy weather is keeping everyone else indoors.

There are MYRIADS of cats - all posing picturesquely on doorsteps & in alleyways....and glaring sleepily as I pass by. I have not taken many photos of them because . . . well, once you start you never stop, do you? And it's the context of them all that really does it, and that is hard to capture.
isabelswift
Nov. 15th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC)
It's obvious
Please introduce the verb: kisser (rhymes with qui sait--cute, eh?) for "to kiss."

There is a long tradition of word appropriation if convenient from both sides of the pond. If necessary, the spelling can be frenchified: quisser, alternatively "donne moi une quisse" (I don't know about the sexing of nouns. Baiser is masculine, so I thought the girls should take over here, but perhaps that's not comme il faut).

Obviously "boucher" is not going to work, between 'corked' and 'butchered' there's just too much scope for imagination & 'mouthed' (just trying to get specific on body parts) just isn't going to win out....

Love the nuance!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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