I am thinking of compiling a book called “Gaelic Shrugs”, and I really would appreciate a little help with this. I have made a start, by numbering a few of them, but I need assistance with categorising many of the different expressions and then trying to define what they really mean.
I am thinking of compiling a book called “Gaelic Shrugs”, and I really would appreciate a little help with this.
I have made a start, by numbering a few of them, but I need assistance with categorising many of the different expressions and then trying to define what they really mean.
The English language does not have sufficient vocabulary to express all the nuances of meanings that are contained within a simple eyebrow lift combined with a pursed lip. Particularly if that pursed lip has a moustache attached to it!
Experts have told me that the French language does not have as many words as some other languages, but what the dictionary does not explain is, for example, the number of things that the rapid exhalation of breath: "Pouff!" can mean. And what about all the nuances of “Zut alors!”
These expressions do not sound interesting at all when written down. Over the telephone they can mean much more, with a little bit of verbal boosting, but French telephone conversations are sometimes brief to the extent of being rude, or so voluble that, in the end, you are not sure if somebody has died, or if the person on the other end is trying to sell you a dishwasher.
For those of you who have not yet visited France perhaps I should explain what I am trying to convey by the word “shrug”.
In English this means a sort of double ‘hunching’ of the shoulders and can mean anything from “I dunno!” to “I don’t really care!”
In French a ‘double hunch’ is almost as powerful a statement as firing a double-barrelled shotgun. Particularly when accompanied by a ‘stare’ and a ‘downward pull’ of the mouth.
The equivalent of an English ‘dunno’ is likely to be expressed with a thumb flick rather like a lazy hitchhiking gesture, but done at elbow level.
If, ever, you should be exposed to both arms waved in the air at the same time, lookout!
I once had one of these in Paris in the early seventies.
I was towing a 16-foot Contender dinghy back from the World Championships in Italy, with a Mini! I was transiting Paris when I arrived at some baffling place where there are several roads feeding into and out of a whirlpool of traffic confusion.
I charged into this maelstrom in an imitation of the French driving techniques that I had witnessed on my drive up from the south. I thought I was integrating rather well, as I had already mastered the art of hooting frequently (not illegal in those days). Of course, with my little Mini horn, I couldn’t really compete with the urgent ‘air-horns’ of the French cars, but I was doing my best.
One of the problems with a Mini is that you are almost invisible in French Traffic.
A Frenchman will spot a bicycle, as has he has probably ridden one, or maybe his grandma has, so he will give it a certain leeway and respect. He will certainly give way to a truck that is larger than his car and he will compete with ferocity with cars of a similar size to his own, with flair akin to charging a horse down the lists in full armoured regalia.
But a Mini? ..... He will not see it.
Particularly when this invisible car is towing a sixteen-foot boat… with a mast laid on top of it… with a little red flag attached …. on the end of the mast… that is sticking out behind…
Well, my antagonist on this occasion had to give way to me as we charged across this battlefield with everybody heading in different directions. I imagine that his intention was to remove a sliver of chrome from my rear bumper (fender) as he filled the gap behind me like a dogem-car driver at the funfair. He must have spotted the boat at the last second because he swerved. This caused his neighbour in a Citroen on his left to swerve. This caused the equivalent of a tidal rip across the whirlpool with an ‘end result’ that I can only imagine, because I had disappeared by then, in the direction of Calais.
I saw, in my rear-view mirror as I left, my antagonist leap from his car and wave both arms in the air. My ‘French’ in those days was even worse than it is now, but I understood fully what he was trying to convey to me. He was questioning whether my parents were married, whether I was mentally deranged, who the blazes I thought I was and what did I think I was doing in a dinky-car in a place that only professionals were allowed to be.
All this in a simple gesture.
So as I say, there are so many body language expressions that range from mild annoyance about the weather to full blown insults that question your heritage and damn your future.
I think that we shall need a special chapter to deal with those shrugs that French people use after liberal absorption of wine. Inasmuch as speech becomes slurred and relaxed as a ‘session’ progresses, so also do the "Gesticulations of Gaul".
I shall also have to have a section that deals with moustaches. I think that this subject also needs further examination and exploration.
Here is a picture of a moustache of a hundred and fifty years ago. Don't you agree that with such a moustache, almost any shrug gains emphasis?
Ultimately, we need new English words to express these 'non-dictionary' parts of the French language.
All suggestions are welcome.