Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

This blue book, Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames is a real treasure. I was ecstatic when I found it. When I was browsing in a used book shop in Melbourne, I found it on a shelf labeled “Books on Books”, but I’m not sure that’s where it belongs—or where it possibly could belong, for that matter! The whole volume is an esoteric joke aimed at native speakers of English who have studied French.

The book purports to be the publication of a mysterious manuscript of French poems the author discovered. He has annotated the poems in English with deadpan comments on the meanings of the French words.

In fact, as the author knows full well, the poems are more or less nonsense when translated from French, but if you pronounce them in French, they sound like a French speaker reciting Mother Goose rhymes! Case in point: The title of the volume, if you read it in a French accent, sounds like “Mother Goose Rhymes”.

Intrigued? There is a wonderful rabbit-hole of related phenomena you can happily fall into if you click the Wikipedia page for Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames.

If you are a social person and you want to have fun with this kind of language trick using just English, try the game Mad Gab.

Example cards from the game:

sea grit dress up ease = secret recipes
ice mail ask hunk = I smell a skunk
canoe key pace he gret = can you keep a secret
sand tack laws = Santa Claus
thigh sing gone thick ache = the icing on the cake

If you’re an introverted student of French and you want to experience the joy of deciphering Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames all by yourself, there are used copies of various editions of the book available through Amazon and Abebooks. You can’t have mine.

My 12th-grade French teacher used to write these “French poems” in a corner of the whiteboard to challenge us. I specifically remember “Little Miss Moffat”. Years later, feeling nostalgic, I looked online for a copy of a book they came from, but buying a copy of the out-of-print volume looked like it was going to be expensive, so I shelved that ambition. In 2009, HarperCollins reissued the work, but—tragically!—it went out of print again before I even noticed. To stumble across it by accident was a fantastic stroke of luck, especially given the price (AU$7) and condition (fantastic).

Maybe you already have the book, and you’ve tried to match the “French poems” to Mother Goose Rhymes, and you’re stumped. After all, the author is quite coy. Though he credits Mother Goose in the bibliography at the end of the book, he never clearly says that the poems are actually English Mother Goose rhymes, so of course he doesn’t list the answers; you are supposed to work them out yourself. If, however, you are fed up with trying to work them out yourself, and you’re here looking for the answers, then you, too have had a stroke of luck. I’ve worked them out for you.

See the answer key below for a list of the names of the 40 nursery rhymes disguised in Mots D’Heures: Gousses Rames.

Continue reading Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

King Rat by James Clavell

Here’s a favorite quote from King Rat:

Writing can be just about the most important job in the whole world. If it’s any good…. A writer can put down on a piece of paper an idea—or a point of view. If he’s any good he can sway people, even if it’s written on toilet paper. And he’s the only one in our modern economy who can do it—who can change the world.

For some thoughts on the novel, check out my post on Asian Books Blog about King Rat.

When and Why I Read King Rat

I’m re-reading this novel for Asian Books Blog. I read it in 2001.

Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished:  14-Jan-18 to 26-Jan-18
Length: 352 pages
ISBN: 0440145465
Originally published in: 1962/1983
Amazon link: King Rat

Harry Potter in Russian

This copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Russian (ISBN 9785389077881) was a gift from Ilya Sergey (a colleague of my husband who does theoretical computery things) and his wife Lilia Anisimova (an illustrator who does computery things of an entirely different kind).

It is the latest addition to my collection of translations of Harry Potter books, which consists mostly of translations of book 3, but also includes some translations of book 1.

The title page of the Russian translation looks like this:

The text inside looks like this:

It’s incomprehensible and unpronounceable yet blessedly phonetic!

The book features a beautiful new cover illustration by Kazu Kibuishi. The spines of the books in the seven-book set form an image of Hogwarts, like so:

New versions in many languages now feature Kibuishi’s illustrations; only buy the Russian edition if you’re a crazy collector like me—or if you can actually read Russian.

The Great Wall (2016)

When I watched this on television at a friend’s house, I’d heard of the movie and wanted to see it (my dislike of the famous-Hollywood-star-in-Asia movie The Last Samurai notwithstanding), but had no idea there were lizard things in it. I suppose I assumed it was a historical story, or maybe a fantastical historical story with magicky people in it, like The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom (2014). I have just learned that the name for that genre is “wuxia”.

No, this was a monster movie. It was a good one! Like Pacific Rim (2013). Again, I sort of expected the monsters to be misunderstood, but no. They’re just monsters. The point is to kill them, not understand them. There are some vague bits of theme wafting around—trust, loyalty, discipline, and teamwork are good, while greed is bad—but really, the point is to stop the lizard monsters from taking over the world.

I enjoyed the Mandarin-heavy dialog because hey! I understood some of it! Every big-budget Hollywood movie with part of the plot set in China (e.g., Now You See Me 2), every Chinese movie with crossover Western appeal (e.g., Bleeding Steel), and every studio cooperation using big names from both the West and China, like this one, brings us closer to a fused future culture like the one in Firefly, even if some of the products of that cooperation, like this one, are not exactly greeted with resounding applause.

Blog of the month!

Okay, so technically it’s one of five blogs of the month, but they gave me this badge that says “blog of the month”, so here we are.

It would be foolishly optimistic for me to assume my blog is about to “go viral” or start making me big affiliate bucks or whatever, and in the search for content to feature, I don’t assume I was terribly close to the top of the list.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased to have been selected, I’m seeing an (undoubtedly temporary) traffic bump since the listicle was published, and I even went so far as to create a Facebook page for this blog, in case any of you temporary visitors are thinking you might want to hear about future blog posts that way.

Bleeding Steel (2017)

Take Jackie Chan’s “loving father / brave protector” role from The Foreigner, subtract the tragedy, and add an over-the-top comic-book villain equipped with an airborne science lab and a fierce henchwoman in a Tron suit, and you’ve got Bleeding Steel. It wasn’t amazing, but I enjoyed it.

It was especially fun for me for two reasons, both related to my recent trip to Australia and New Zealand. First, on that trip, I skydived for the first time. There’s a scene (shown on movie posters) of Jackie Chan falling from a plane. Now I know what that feels like. Second, when touring the Sydney Opera House, our group was told that Jackie Chan had been filming stunts for a movie there. When I saw the movie, I recognized the location from having been there myself. Of course, I wasn’t actually on top of the Sydney Opera House, but I was in and around it.

When I told a friend I’d just seen a Jackie Chan movie, she thought I meant The Foreigner. No, not that one. Kung Fu Yoga? No, not that one, either. All three are Jackie Chan movies released in 2017! Now I learn there was a fourth: Namiya. It must have been a busy year for Jackie, not even counting two cartoon voice roles.