Sunday, 7 August 2011

Contrepèterie or Word play in French.

The English language lends itself to manipulation of words and phrases to create amusement. Word play and double-entendre have been the driving force behind the nudge-wink style of comedy favoured by many successful British comedians over the years.

Take, for example, Kenny Everett's character Cupid Stunt. An excellent example of a spoonerism if ever there was one. (Originally, the character was to be called Mary Hinge but the BBC wouldn't allow it!)

I was listening to a radio programme about the use of spoonerisms and it suddenly struck me that they must exist in other languages, too. A quick wikipedia search told me that spoonerisms are used internationally in many different languages.

In French, this is called contrepèterie and is extremely popular. The French are immensely proud of this and, in fact, the satirical newspaper le canard enchaîné has a column solely devoted to contrepèterie.

As in English, contrepèterie usually is a quite innocent phrase but contains more than a hint of indecency if letters or syllables were manipulated and enough thought was given to it.

François Rabelais used contrepèteries in 1532 in Pantagruel "la femme folle à la messe"

Just south of Paris, in Bourg-La-Reine there is a bookshop called le verger des muses.

The are many famous contrepèteries.

Here are some of them for you to think about:
  • Les filles aiment le tennis en pension.
  • J'aime vachement votre frangin.
  • Elle prend la chose en riant.
  • L'auberge du chat qui rit.
So, the next time you speak with a French person, listen very carefully.
He may, or may not, be a shining wit.

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