Monday, June 6, 2011

L'énigme de Castor Malin

Continued from the previous post. Recall the fiendish rebus challenge of the clever beaver, Castor Malin:

How hard can this be? All one has to do is inhabit the mind of an 8-year old French child. Let's take a deep breath and see how far we can get. Spell it out, children:

Pan - dents - l'oeufs - pr - un - t- un, lait - c'oeufs - riz - i - haie - son - tr - haie - b'eau : ile - s'oeufs - cou - v - r'oeufs - deux - j'eau - lit - fleur - blanche.

OK, now let's apply some of those special French "rules" of pronunciation, where by "rules" I mean completely arbitrary conventions with no internal coherence. It will be helpful to make lots of nasal sounds, bearing in mind that nobody really cares which one you make, if you pull it off with enough panache. Oh, and also, all those consonants in the word for eggs, "oeufs", are completely redundant - they are not pronounced at all, so that the word is pronounced something like Homer Simpson's "Duh!", but without the "D". Are you following this? Let's have another go, shall we?

Pongdong luh prongtong, lay suhriziay song tray bo : eel suh coovruh duh zholee fluhr blanche.

That wasn't so hard, was it? Now, all we have to do is reverse-engineer this gobbledeygook into the correct one of the 48,644 possible French spelling combinations that fits this particular sound combination. (Did I mention that French has more than its fair share of homophones, words that sound alike, but are spelled differently, and have completely different meanings?) This mess is, relatively speaking, a piece of cake. Basically, we just need to sprinkle back in a healthy dollop of useless consonants:

Pendant le printemps, les cerisiers sont très beaux : ils se couvrent de jolies fleurs blanches.

Et Voilà ! There we have it.

In spring, cherry blossom trees are very beautiful: they are covered with pretty white flowers.

That wasn't so bad, now, was it? Picture my smugness at the table, as I finished deciphering this message while I polished off my dessert. I was so self-satisfied that I felt it necessary to share my accomplishment with the waitress. Was I expecting an 'attaboy' for my efforts? Maybe so. What I got was a look of withering contempt, as she turned the placemat upside down and wordlessly pointed to the solution, printed on the bottom.

But, hey, at least my mastery of French is equal to that of an 8-year old.

I left her a lousy tip.

1 comment:

  1. A lousy tip for an American (...permanent resident) is usually a grand tip for a French waitress.