“May I Have the Language of Origin Please?” – Another Reason We Love France

Cat at microphone croppedOur English language is filled with words from French origins.  In part, we can thank the Duke of Normandy for this, as the French spoken in the Middle Ages (a direct offshoot of Latin) was incorporated into English after the Norman Conquest in 1066.  Modern French uses the same 26 letter alphabet as English (both based on Latin), but the vowel combinations and pronunciations are quite different than English. 

quimper[1]Take for example the word “quimper”.  In English, it looks like you would pronounce this “KWIM per”, rhymes with “whimper”.  NOT SO!  In the Merriam-Webster’s 3rd New International Unabridged Dictionary (official source for U.S. Spelling Bees), the pronunciation is “kahn PAIR” with accent on 2nd syllable (sounds like “compare”).  Of course, if you’re familiar with France, you know Quimper is a town in the Brittany region of France, and “quimper” is the adjective used to describe the pottery from this region. 

 Because of the tricky pronunciations, French words that have made their way into English are favorite list words in U.S. Spelling Bee Competition.  Upwards of 30% of the words used in Scripps’ National Spelling Bee competition have French origins. But with study and practice, many French spelling patterns are consistent, and not too difficult to master.

My daughter is a spelling whiz, and participated in the Scripps’ National Spelling Bee in 2007 and 2008.  We credit much of her success to her knowledge of French, both from spelling study, and from being immersed in the language, through numerous trips through France. 
Press Conf

Even though she never studied French formally until high school in 2009, her familiarity of common words in French came in very handy when competing.  When riding in an elevator in France, you notice the word “etage” for “floor” or “level”.  Well, the word “étagère” a spelling list word for the open shelf display cabinet, is directly from “etage” root word. 

 Many of the words she was asked to spell in the final rounds of national competition came directly from French:  redoppe, Huguenot, boulangere (method of cooking with sliced onions in a casserole).  Coincidentally, I have this photo of her taken the year before the Bee, standing next door to the “boulanger” which is from the same root word.

L'isle Sur la Sorgue Street Scene

Eclat perfumeThe word “Eclat” was also featured in the 2008 Spelling Bee, which means “brilliant”, “dazzling”.  Coincidentally (again), Eclat is the name of the French perfume she wears from famous French perfumery Fragonard.  She found this fragrance on a family trip where we visited the Fragonard perfume factory in Eze, France.  So she was well familiar with this word! 

Cat with Dr. Sietsema at BanquetSo you see, in addition to art treasures, history, cinema,  gourmet cuisine, wine, champagne, cheese, pastries, tourism, literature, architectural wonders, french perfume, fashion, and pomme frites — we have yet another reason to love France and the French!  Spelling Bees!  Vive la France!

5 thoughts on ““May I Have the Language of Origin Please?” – Another Reason We Love France

  1. Peng SC Shekar

    I have always been in love with both the french language and the art since my art college days. Years after, with my kids and spouse, I fulfilled my desire of living the live of a Parisian. There is just something about the french, a certain laid back lifestyle. There is always time for a chat over a cup of coffee or simply breathing in the scent of freshly baked bread as you run into the patisserie … Back in Malaysia, land of the tropic, I settled into the day to day of rainy sky and last minute rushes. Somehow the joie de vive is practiced less openly here, being Asian in a Moslem country, we hug less and bodily contact is at minimum.
    Keep up the good work! Cheers

    1. enchantedtraveler Post author

      Thank you for the wonderful comment. I greatly appreciate it. You captured the joie de vivre of France exactly as I feel too. France is a feast for the senses. Please accept this virtual hug!

    1. enchantedtraveler Post author

      Thank you, Jessie! I greatly appreciate your comment, and submission to Stumbleupon. Thanks so much!

  2. Bess alberts

    I to have visited France twice, and wish i knew the beautiful language, just hearing it, and being there soaking it all in, is romantic , like she said, relaxing, and always seems to be calmer than usa. i only wish i knew how to dress more appropiate when there in January the second time, i near froze to death, didn’t realize it got so cold, i went thru two pair of shoes, had blisters so bad, tried walking on kotex pads, and even then was unbearable, and bled constantly, i thought i would never warm up again, as i felt in England that year, but i soaked up ever bit of every thing i could while there. i loved it just the same, God bless you all. and the hugs mean every thing, don’t they, in a hug less marriage, awful to have to ask for one, isn’t it?


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