Monday, February 16th, 2009

scandalous words

Filed under: corporate life,culture,language,Québec — alison @ 07:41

Um, heard about this on the radio last night. It’s over a week old; I really need to keep up with the news better.

Titter. Snerk.

Our diligent but bland premier, Jean Charest, went to France so that Nicolas Sarkozy could award him the Legion of Honour. According to the CBC, all Québec is abuzz over what Sarkozy said to him. “In this case, it is all about how a few words spoken by Nicolas Sarkozy this week has touched off yet another trans-Atlantic tizzy, though this time it is Quebec sovereigntists who are upset with what the French president said.” Apparently, while presenting the Legion of Honour, Sarkozy said “Do you really believe that the world, with the unprecedented crisis that it is going through, needs division, needs hatred?”

Ha. Quebecers really do not care. It’s true, a few words spoken by a French politician have, in fact, touched off a trans-Atlantic tizzy. Different politician, different words.

The diligent but bland french deputy Pierre Lasbordes was assigned to greet Charest as he entered the Senate. He thought he would welcome his distinguished guest with a demonstration of interest in his origins, so he asked his parliamentary aide and his wife to come up with a typically québécois expression to enquire after M. Charest’s state of fatigue. They went to a belgian travel site, found an expression and e-mailed someone in Rimouski who confirmed it. Which is how M. Lasbordes greeted M. Charest with, «J’espère que vous n’avez pas trop la plotte à terre, comme on le dit au Québec.» In English, I’m not sure whether that would be better understood as “I hope you haven’t worn out your cunt,” or “I hope your cunt isn’t dragging on the ground.”

*** *** ***
The québécois word «plotte» comes from the french word «pelote», meaning sheepskin. Something furry. Like a vulva… or a head, which is the imagery that came quite naturally to the parliamentary aide: head on the ground, upside down. While «plotte» is just vulgar when used as vocabulary, it’s kind of silly and cute when used in «plotte à terre», suggesting that “head on the ground” probably is actually the origin of the expression in Québec, though that meaning has been lost. Today, cunt just means cunt.

*** *** ***
Which brings me, however circuitously, to the point, however insignificant, of this post. You know how anglophones think it’s so funny that québécois swear with religious words: “tabernacle” is at least as strong a word as “fuck.” Similarly, “sacristy,” “chalice” and “baptism” are all strong swear words.

What we comment on less frequently are how body words are sprinkled through the language so casually. Windshield washer fluid? «Pipi». Grime under your fingernails? «Caca». Snow? «Merde». Compensating? «Grosse corvette, petite quéquette». Tired? «Avoir la plotte à terre». While this isn’t language I would use to talk to my boss at my corporate job, it would be fine for talking to my neighbour over the fence.

That’s all!

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Tidy Conundrum 1

Filed under: culture,fallacies,housekeeping,how to,naïveté,tidy conundrum — alison @ 21:41

(Possibly the first in a series.)

In my previous post I said that being tidy is hard for me because it’s complicated. For most people it’s the opposite. Trying to live and work in an unordered heap is complicated. Wandering through life quietly restoring objects to their rightful places is both obvious and rewarding.

So I thought I’d post about the things that my disorderly little mind struggles with so unsuccessfully. To start off: nail clippings.

I was brought up to clip my nails in such a way that the clippings would fly through the air and fall randomly to the ground. This always seemed a little odd to me. Breadcrumbs and sand are not disposed of by sprinkling them over the floorboards or the bedclothes, but apparently nail clippings are a special exception.

I thought I would be clever and cup my hand over the clipper to catch clippings before they flew off and collect them so they could be tidily thrown out. Well. It turns out that this is Gross and Disgusting. Approximately on the order of pooping on the table. I have been shrieked at for my little piles of clippings, and my first boyfriend almost broke up with me, shaking with rage, when I forgot to throw out my tiny heap and he came home and saw it. This is fairly easy to resolve, of course: only clip nails when utterly alone and with a waste-paper basket within your field of vision. But I was curious. I could imagine that social convention dictates that a piece of nail, once separated from the digit that produced it, becomes so revolting that it may not be looked at or touched. Social convention dictates a lot of things that don’t necessarily make sense. But do all my friends and relatives truly believe that these repugnant objects dissolve into the air or melt into the linoleum?

I asked around, and apparently it’s true. Those horrible nail clippings evaporate if you don’t look at them. And you shouldn’t look at them. They are abhorrent.

Okey-dokey. Nail clipping and disposal in secrecy it is.

It was one of the first things I asked Mark when we met. He has lots of strong ideas about waste disposal and I thought he would be able to resolve the conundrum of simultaneously acknowledging both social convention and object persistence with respect to nail clippings. My confidence was well-founded.

Mark’s answer: clip nails into the bathtub where they will scatter randomly and… provide invisible traction for your feet when you take a shower.

I actually think this solution is a little gross, but I am so relieved to be living with someone who has a rule about nail clippings that makes any sense at all that I don’t quibble.

So. You see why tidying is so complicated for me? Every individual item could get a whole blog post.


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