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Jargon (From old English and old French)

Slang is fun in any language, so I thought I would give you a few of my favorite, clean French terms.

Oh la vache – Wow, OMG

literal translation  – Oh the cow.

Un Rosbif – A Brit

Literal translation – a roast beef

Avoir le cafard – Be depressed

Literal translation – to have the cockroach

C’est la fin des haricots – that’s the last straw.

Literal translation – That’s the end of the green beans.

Or these pet names: ma puce, ma poule, ma biche (literally my flea, my chicken, my deer)


I regularly play scrabble in French, and I even win, sometimes, though never against my Italian friend! There is something incredibly satisfying about beating someone at scrabble in their mother tongue! Not that I have a competitive bone in my body you understand, ahem! K is one of the problem letters in French scrabble. It is rare in French because it was rare in Latin. In Latin, K was only used for words of Greek origin that included the letter  kappa. This usage passed into French, so that “c” marks the “k” sound in front of hard vowels and “qu” marks the “k” sound in front of soft vowels. Both these sounds can be found in the French/Corsican word “Calanques” the name for some stunning fjords near Marseille. So K really only appears in foreign words used in French (same problem with W by the way) like wok and ski. Wok is one of my go-to words when I play scrabble here. That’s 16 points and if you land on a triple word score – 48, just from three little letters (but who’s counting, eh?)! I must go and check out a French children’s alphabet book to see what they use to illustrate the letter K.

Lavender (Associated with French. lavande,  Italian. lavanda “a washing” from Latin lavare  “to wash “; because it was used to scent washed fabrics and as a bath perfume.)

Lavender use has been recorded for some 2500 years. Some varieties of the plant may have been domesticated in Arabia. The plant was sold by Greek traders around 600 BC to the Hyères Islands off Toulon, S France. Then it spread to France, Italy, and Spain. Almost as soon as you enter Provence, you encounter these addictive fields of lavender. Just breathe and follow your sense of smell! The scent from these fields of an ample mauve coat stretching before your enchanted eyes, very quickly becomes heady. Every area has its own characteristics, its traditions and its lavender festivals all summer long. Lavender is a small wild and aromatic woody shrub, just like thyme and savory, which all belong to the Lamiaceae family. Though it isn’t bothered by wind, neither the Mistral nor the Tramontane (our southern French winds), it is particularly fond of the sun and of poor rocky and chalky terrains. Although there are no less than 50 varieties of lavender these can be divided into two main categories: true lavender and “lavandin”. The former grows above 2,300 feet, and is the only real lavender, described as “fine” -used by the famous Grasse perfume factories of Galimard, Fragonard and Molinard, and recognized for its medicinal properties, it only grows at high altitude, whereas “lavandin”, a tall hybrid plant domesticated by man, grows in abundance in the plains. Thus you see, what the tourists flock to is not the ‘real’ thing, and while I still like taking my visiting friends to soak up the purple, scented fields, my real appreciation is when I am climbing in the mountains above Nice and come across natural clumps of the wild plant, crushing the tiny petals between my fingers, the oily fragrance will perfume my entire hike.

This series on France begins here.



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8 Responses to FRANCE J-L

  1. Diane says:

    I laughed at your comment regarding competitiveness, as you sound like my husband. He would say he’s never competitive, but, unfortunately thats the only way he nows how to play, any game…lol. I love scrabble, not that I am any good of course.
    Fields of lavender, I remember seeing when travelling through France. Beautiful!

    • Joanna says:

      Well, I have learnt to be a great loser too (had to)! Scrabble is one of my favorite games. I have a travel scrabble in French that has served me well on week-long hiking trips in the mountains here and in wild camping in Corsica!

      The lavender fields are truly worth a visit. I have a lovely lavender bush under my lemon tree but it won’t flower for another 3 weeks or so, hence no photo.

  2. Patricia Tilton says:

    What a lovely and beautiful blog. I would be in heaven with the fields of lavender and enjoyed learning about the origin. You must be trekking pretty high on the mountains, if the lavandin grows above 2,300 ft.

    I don’t believe for one moment that you don’t have a competitive spirit with all of your varied interests and sports. Didn’t know you love scrabble and can play in multiple languages and win. Already realized you are very energetic. You certainly are giving us some insight into your beloved home — and you! What a treat!

    • Joanna says:

      Indeed the remarks about competitiveness were tongue in cheek, I do not deny ;). We have the Maritime Alps just 1.5 hours away. Our highest mountain is Mont Bégo, which has an altitude of 2,872 metres (9,423 ft) so yes, the hikes are reasonably high. This also means decent skiing too!

      You would indeed love the lavender fields, Pat. These posts are giving me a renewed appreciation of my region, for sure.

  3. The jargon was delightful — and so funny! Thank you!

    The lavender — wow. Gorgeous photo, and fascinating information. I can always count on learning something when I come to your blog, and you teach in such a reader-friendly, interesting manner! Your students must have loved you when you were teaching (and librarian-ing, and now as a guidance counselor).

    • Joanna says:

      Beth, thank you for your kind words. I love empowering people. I have taught kindergarten to adult and truly enjoy all age groups. As I recently put on facebook, I love this Robert Frost quote, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” I enjoy the more informal role of librarian, or counselor as it seems to allow for a more relaxed relationship. Of course it is always a two-way street, whereby I am “awakened” myself by sharing knowledge/life. I probably need to tone down the teacher in me in blogging, though!

  4. No, please don’t tone down the teacher in you in your blogging! I love learning, and find all that you blog about so very interesting — and that’s part of who you are!

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