Monday, September 12, 2011

Geek's Corner 18 : Pet Peeve

Lord knows, I love the French language. I'm here, after all, struggling with its intricacies, when I could be back in San Francisco, spending even more time at the dentist. And though there are some aspects of French that are infinitely frustrating, like the inability to pronounce even the simplest of words without contorting one's face in a manner that would frighten most normal children, in general I am content to exert myself and make the necessary effort.

But there is one thing about French that frosts my eyeballs. Today in class, for example -- all I wanted to do was say "99% of Irish people" -- yet by the time I finally spit it out, it was as if I was experiencing a brain aneurysm. If I were in Belgium, or Switzerland, or Quebec, I could get away with a simple "nonante neuf pour cent", and that would be that. But no, here in Paris, where the locals still apparently count on their fingers AND their toes, I have to go : "four times twenty and ten and nine", that is, "quatre-vingts dix neuf". It's frankly ludicrous. Only shepherds count that way in this day and age. And I am not a shepherd.

So, Monsieur Sarkozy and members of the Academie, here is my modest proposal for simplifying your (admittedly beautiful) language. Let's do away, once and for all, with this idiotic, mincing, vestigial, vigesimal system of counting. No more of this 72 = 60 + 12, so that would be "soixante douze". Enough with the whole "quatre-vingts quinze" (= 4 x 20, carry the zero, add 15) bullshit. Let's all agree that, on this one point at any rate, the Belgians and the Quebecois have the right idea.

Septante. Huitante. Nonante. How hard is that?

Because sometimes we novices could use a break.

Thank you for your indulgence.


  1. Repeat after me: yan, tan, tether, mether, pip...

  2. As I said, I am *not* a shepherd. And just think how absurd the song "99 Luftballons" must sound in French!

  3. To heck with French. I'm worried that your dentist has separation anxiety.

  4. The only separation anxiety my dentist is likely to feel is from my bank account. At times there in August it seemed as if the easiest thing to do would just be to give him my PIN.

    But there was a silver lining. When we finally got around to filing my 2010 taxes, I ended up getting a $3000 refund from the rapacious California taxman. Enough to pay for the part of my dental work that my pathetically limited Kaiser plan didn't cover.

  5. How many fingers am I holding up?

  6. Have you read À rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans?