Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

French puns

Let’s leave aside for a moment the antipodal politics of the French--as in opposing Afghanistan’s request to send more NATO troops to help with security during their elections--and note this graceful essay by Luc Sante on the French language. He hails from the French speaking part of Belgium, lives in the U.S., and was artfully kept in his native tongue by his mother. His reflections on the language, and especially "in the singular ability of French to generate wordplay, puns in particular" is quite good, but long.
A taste:

"French-speaking children are schooled in puns from the start. Of course, this could be said of speakers of English and maybe every other language as well-that’s what riddles are for. For example, I date my true immersion in English from the moment I understood the humor of Q: When is a boy not a boy? A: When he turns into a store. But puns lie much thicker on the ground in French, in large part because the language is so much more rigorous and willfully delimited than the sprawling mass of English, an elegantly efficient two-stroke engine to the latter’s uncontainable Rube Goldberg mechanism. French does not necessarily have fewer sounds than English, but the protocols governing their order and frequency make their appearances predictable-hence the profusion of sound-alike phrases and sentences, which fueled Surrealism and ensure the ongoing appeal of Freudian and post-Freudian ideas in the French-speaking world: Les dents, la bouche. Laid dans la bouche. Les dents la bouchent. L’aidant la bouche. Etc. These phrases, which sound exactly alike, respectively mean ’the teeth, the mouth;’ ’ugly in the mouth;’ ’the teeth choke her;’ ’helping her chokes her.’ You don’t need to have been psychoanalyzed by Jacques Lacan to see from these examples how language can assist thought in swiftly tunneling from the mundane to the taboo. Children are instinctively aware of this, even and perhaps especially if they are being raised Catholic and are thus trained in the finer points of repression."

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