Reader Piqued By French Mutilations
Mari, one of our readers, writes:
Perhaps…you could address a problem that seems to have reached epidemic proportions: the difference between pique, peek and peak. Recently I have been inundated with people giving ‘sneak peaks’ and having their curiosity ‘peeked’.
I pointed out the “peak” for “peek” spelling myself in an earlier article. It’s an easy mistake to make since ee and ea are alternate English spellings for the long e sound.
Misspelling the French word pique is a shame since it looks so cool. And there’s not much excuse for doing so. English writers don’t seem to have any trouble with the word unique which is spelled according to the same pattern.
Mari is also troubled by the cutesy spelling of French Voilà as “Walla.”
while you’re at it, perhaps you would add ‘Voila’ … I might be forced to blind myself if I see ‘Walla’ again.
I suppose that people who write Voilà as “walla” may feel it’s closer to the French pronunciation, but even if it were, which it isn’t that much, the weird spelling “walla” is confusing. It makes me think of “wallah” as in “laundry wallah.”
When I googled “walla,” I discovered that the word actually has meanings.
Walla is radio broadcasting jargon for a sound effect imitating the murmur of a crowd in the background.
The word walla is a way of swearing by God in Arabic.
Walla! is an Israeli internet news portal, search engine, and email service provider.
While we’re on the subject of mutilations of French expressions, here’s one that gets me.
chaise longue – a chair that holds up the sitter’s legs; a deck chair
Americans long ago changed the longue, meaning “long,” to lounge, since that is what one does on such a chair.
Chaise lounge no longer bothers me, but I do have expectations regarding the pronunciation of chaise, My preferred pronunciation is /shez/, but I’ll even settle for /chaiz/.
The fingernail scraped the blackboard, however, when I watched a Wal-mart television ad for lawn furniture the other evening. The cheery salesman wanted to sell his customer a “chase lounge.”
Here are a few other French words and expressions that should be written or spoken with care.
chic /sheek/ stylish
coup de grâce /ku də grahs/ (literally “mercy blow”) – killing a wounded creature to end its suffering.
déjà vu /day jah voo/ (literally, “already seen”) – the feeling that one is experiencing an event that has happened previously. It is NOT amusing when people say “déjà vu all over again.”
faux /foe/ (false) jewelers often advertise “faux pearls.” Copywriters must take care not to write ads offering “genuine faux pearls.”
fiancé /fee ahn say/ man engaged to be married
fiancée /fee ahn say/ woman engaged to be married
hors d’oeuvre /or derve/ (literally “out of” or “apart from the work, i.e., the main course”) Thought: People who write “walla” for voilà probably say /hors duvers/ for hors d’oeuvres.
risqué /ris kay/ off-color, naughty, as in a risqué joke.
RSVP (abbreviation for Répondez s’il vous plaît, “Reply if it pleases you”) Added to invitations for which the host wishes to know if the guest is coming or not. “Please RSVP” is redundant, but common.
vis-à-vis /vee zah vee/ (literally “face to face”) The French meaning was once more common in English than it is now. Dancers were said to dance vis-à-vis. There was a style of horse-drawn coach called a vis-à-vis in which passengers sat facing one another. Now, however, vis-à-vis is used more often to mean “in relation to” as in these headlines:
Senior Citizens vis – a- vis the Indian Society
Vietnam vis a vis Iraq in Congressional Debate–Lessons Learned? Or Biases Deeply Ingrained?
NATION-STATES VIS-A-VIS ETHNOCULTURAL MINORITIES
The headlines also illustrate the various ways that vis-à-vis is written in English.
Voilà! /vwah lah/ (“There it is!”) If you decide to eschew the “walla” spelling, take a close look at the vowels and the direction of the accent mark. Don’t write “voilá” or “violà.”
voir dire /vwar deer/ (literally “to see to say”) a legal term you’ve probably heard on Law and Order. It refers to jury selection.
So, spice up your speech and writing with French words and expressions. Just don’t mutilate them when you do.
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