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.

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Calvin and Hobbes in Translation

This collection of translations of Bill Watterson’s The Revenge of the Baby- Sat probably got started when I went to Italy in 2002 and chanced upon a copy of the Italian translation.

Undoubtedly I bought the Portuguese one in Portugal in 2004 and the German one in Germany in 2008. My husband fetched me the French one from France at some point or other, having somehow determined that the contents were the same even though the cover was different. A neighbor kindly brought back the Chinese version for me when she went to visit family in Beijing recently.

Seeing Calvin’s words in other languages that use the Roman alphabet is one thing; seeing them in Chinese characters is quite strange.

Below are images of the six different book covers: French, Italian, Portuguese, German, English, and Chinese.

There are translations available in other languages, including Spanish (ISBN 9786075271170), Dutch (ISBN 97890542562), and Czech (ISBN 9788074490798), as well…

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Six Little Princes

I’m fascinated by books that transmit knowledge and culture across language barriers, which is why I have whole shelves of familiar books in unfamiliar languages. (I’m not crazy; I’m erudite! At least that’s what I keep telling myself.)

One of the books I own in multiple languages is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Above are copies in Lao(atian), Khmer (the language of Cambodia), Vietnamese, Portuguese, the original French, and Italian.

I bought the Lao and Khmer copies at Monument Books in Vientiane in 2015; I just recently bought the Vietnamese one at one of the three Artbook locations in Hanoi; I bought the Portuguese one in Porto, Portugal, in 2004. I unknowingly kicked off the habit of buying Le Petit Prince in other languages when I bought the Italian one in Italy in 2002. I probably bought the English version between 1999 and 2004.

The French copy is the one I used when I was a senior in high school. The book, designed for students, includes a glossary at the back, but I added footnotes.

le-petit-prince
My handwriting, age 18. Meh.

Do I have an English translation of Le Petit Prince? Yes, but it’s not in the photo because it’s in a box with a bunch of other books we don’t have shelves for. There is more than one such box.

in-a-box
That’s my English-language copy of The Little Prince.

Bottom left, you see 1984? I have that in Portuguese, too.

Les Nouvelles Aventures d’Aladin (2015)

This French comedy, the title of which in English is The New Adventures of Aladdin, was the first and best of the ten movies I saw on my latest trip to the US.

It’s a story within a story; the frame story is set during Christmas and is about a guy who is planning an after-hours robbery of the department store where he and his buddy work. Before the time arrives, however, his boss makes him tell a story to a group of kids, and he chooses to narrate a ‘remix’ of the fantasy story of Aladdin.

This version of Aladdin is a mixture of the familiar 1992 Disney cartoon, the traditional Arabian Nights story, and the filmmakers’ own ideas. Some of the new ideas are wry anachronisms inserted by the character who serves as narrator; others are suggested by the children in the audience as the story progresses.

The whole thing is utterly hilarious, and of course there’s a happy holiday ending: the narrator—the proverbial thief with a heart of gold—decides not to go through with the robbery after all.

https://itunes.apple.com/fr/movie/les-nouvelles-aventures-daladin/id1045015238

For more on what I liked, with SPOILERS, keep reading.

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