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New Words #6: Merci beaucoup, y’all
Thanks a bunch, vous autres
For nearly thirty years, I’ve been fascinated by a man I never met. He was the uncle of my supervisor at the after-school retail job I had my senior year of high school, and the following is everything I know about him.
1. He was a middle-aged man from Texas.
2. Sometime in the mid-nineties, he took his wife to Paris for their anniversary.
3. Throughout their ten-day stay, each time they left a shop or restaurant, he’d tip his cowboy hat and address the establishment’s (presumably horrified) employees in his very best French-adjacent drawl: “MARE SEE BOW COO, Y’ALL.”
This story pops into my head at random intervals because, well, the mental image delights me. But it has some practical applications as well. Back when I was a middle and high school teacher, the tale came in handy when perfectionistic students needed a distraction from their own perceived flaws. (“The French r sound is tough for English speakers to learn, but you’ll get there sooner than you think. Besides, you’re already doing way better than the ‘merci beaucoup, y’all’ guy, and he made it home from France in one piece.”)
More recently, I’ve been writing and translating fiction in which characters are either traveling far from home or returning from long journeys. As I work through the idiosyncrasies of their dialogue and body language, I keep noticing how their home language affects their speech patterns in an unfamiliar setting, and I’m reminded of my old supervisor’s uncle. Most of us are far more subtle about announcing our origins when we travel, but no matter how hard we might try to blend in, we can’t keep our past experiences and ingrained habits entirely hidden. When I write or translate about the ways in which habits picked up abroad carry over into a character’s daily life back home, I like to imagine that same gentleman, jet-lagged upon returning to Texas, greeting a gas station attendant or grocery store cashier in French. After all, it seems only fair that he would bring a little bit of his Parisian self home with him.
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A Humble Suggestion
In each newsletter, I’ll offer at least one recommendation for your reading, watching, or listening pleasure. This time around, I’m highlighting a couple of Substacks of interest to avid readers and (especially) writers. Like mine, their posts and archives are free to read.
Each Sunday, I look forward to checking out Sarah Nicolas’s Virtual Bookish Events newsletter, which lists upcoming online events—some free, some paid—that will appeal to readers and/or writers. It’s a great resource for everything from book launches and readings to classes and workshops for writers working in a variety of genres.
I’ve also been enjoying Kate Broad’s newsletter, Ask an Author, in which she answers questions about drafting, editing, and marketing novels. I particularly recommend her three-part series (starting here) about how to write quickly, deal with deadlines, and manage large writing projects.
Here, Look at My Cats
The world is a mess, and you might welcome a pleasant distraction. For what it’s worth, here are my cats.
Merci beaucoup for reading, y’all. See you back here soon.