Saturday, 3 May 2008

Mon Français est non bon, or The Unlearned Harlot.

"Jeux de pos": Belgian ballsport, rhetorical device, francosimilitudinous* babble?

Having left the young scholars' essays to ferment for a week in the corner of my office, I took to them last weekend with pitchfork and trowel. Then I decided to use my HB pencil, which had the pleasant consequence of enabling me to procrastinate long and often in the sharpening of my HB pencil, the disposal of my HB pencil-shavings, a trip to the newsagent to replenish my HB pencil store when the original HB pencil was bewhittled down to its stumpy ankles, &c.

I generally learn things while marking the young scholars' essays. They are no fools, the young scholars, though some of them haven't been sufficiently exposed to the righteous wrath of an apostrophe pedant. With my last dose of marking I learnt the phrase "jeux de pos". I learnt it, insofar as I became aware that such a permutation of letters is possible; I did not, however, learn what it means.

I've never been afraid to season my sentences with Frenchismes. Indeed Frenchismes I have scattered with such a liberal hand I am as though a garçon in a restaurant wielding a giant pepper shaker and the Frenchismes are the pepper and the sentences are the vegetables délicieux and I want to impress the eaters of the sentences with my incredible (incredeebleugh) skills in the shaking of pepper. This, despite the fact that I do not actually speak French. Français, je ne parle pas. Nor do I read French. Français, je ne read pas. As this is not an inadequacy to which I generally choose to confess in my annotations upon a young scholar's essay, confronted with the phrase "jeux de pos", I of course scurry to mine internet and google furiously.

No cigar.

So I scurry to my French-English-English-French dictionary, the title page of which is reproduced below in recumbent form, and again, the cigars are scarce. "Jeux" means "games", and "de", as I awready knew, means "of", but "pos" my wee dictionary is either too wee to define, or le mot "pos" n'est pas existe.

And so I remain unlearned in the ways of "jeux de pos". Anyone so placed as to offer enlightenment, please do. Please do before Tuesday when I return the essays, with annotations, one of which, in the event of your not enlightening me, will be: "I do not know what this means. What does this mean? Why don't you write in my native language? I know I usually do."

You'll be pleased to read that from this altogether terrible situation, your correspondent, assaulted by the slings and arrows of her own outrageous incomprehension, has salvaged some good: viz., she has discovered the excellent compendium of "Useful Phrases for Travellers" lodged in the appendix to her French-English-English-French Dictionary. These are phrases that no Australian in Paris can do without, like "Waiter, bring me some cold fowl" (Garçon, apportez-moi de la volaille froide), "I do not like a feather-bed, I prefer a horse-hair mattress" (Je n'aime pas les lits de plume, je préfère un matelas de crin), and "Trim my beard too; I like it pointed" (Taillez-moi la barbe aussi; je la préfère en pointe). Indeed, why wait for Paris? The Paris End of Thornbury'll do me.

* I made this word up. I will not be using it again in the near future.


Martin Kingsley said...

I zink 'e means "jeux de pois", but that offers little illumination, as 'pois' seems to denote petits pois, or peas, as well as, when used to denote clothing, polka-dots. It does seem to have some kind of academic meaning, however, as it is mentioned in full at the following Google Books link: here.

Maybe this will be of some minor assistance?

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Thank you, Martinski. This is more of a lead than I've had so far. Still, I think I'm going for the Belgian ballsport definition.

TimT said...

I don't know about English-French-French-English dictionaries. Of more use, I find, are English-French-Latvian-Inuit-Cockney-Inuit-Latvian-Russian-English dictionaries.

Maybe, one of these days, I'll write a handy travellers dictionary for Proto-Indo-European society, containing such useful phrases as:

"Where are the best ice-cream stores to be found on this steppe?"

"How often does the train leave for Ancient Greece?"

And of course, "Could you trim my beard too, please? I like it pointed." Trimmed beards a real hit with the Hittites. And they'd know.

eyrie said...

To be boring, I think the most likely explanation is that your scholar has either misremembered or misspelt the phrase, possibly because she's trying to deploy a bit of jargon she may have learnt in another course. At first, turning to the simple explanation, I was thinking maybe it's "jeux de position" (the new whizz bang concept in gender studies?). But then, looking at my French dictionary (which is, alas, all too functional and lacking in the obvious charms of your trusted friend), I think that "jeux de pose" might be a likelier candidate- because "pose" with no accent on the e can mean installation, pose/attitude and (with reference to photography) exposure. Does that possibly fit the context?

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

From the context, I think she was trying to say "On the other hand", but it will be a pleasure to enumerate the possibilities.

Speaking of the steppes, did you know that the latest theory about Plague says it originated in Mongolia? Gosh, the Plague is interesting.

eyrie said...

Ah good, your student doesn't speak French either, which gives you the opportunity to make stuff up.

I have to do this thing to help young scholars with their writing. I would include a section on franglais, if I weren't possessed of an unaccountable obsession with actually being paid.

There was a lot about the Plague when I went to Edinburgh last year and did that underground tour. It really brought home to me how shite life would have been then and how inevitable something like that was.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

At least in the Dark Ages, noone travelled anywhere 'cause of all the forest, so disease would stay put. I feel a health and environment policy coming on.

Anonymous said...

Juxtapose, I think, though it is very late in the game...