Wednesday, February 06, 2013

There's a word for that......

Slipping the odd foreign word or phrase into conversation is sometimes evidence of pretentious snobbery, sometimes it becomes necessary because there really is no alternative, sometimes also use of "the foreign" is chosen with sarcastic intent or simply for a laugh.

The illustration (left) comes from Futurama Fry at I recognise the dilemma, and hear it sometimes on TV when US natives pronounce certain foreign words. "Empire", when referring to a style of women's dress (very high waist) is pronounced here as "ompeer", while in England we'd just say empire as in Empire....there are a couple of other examples but they refuse to spring to mind right now.

Anyway....I've learned a few more foreign words recently. I doubt they'll ever come up in my conversation, but I might throw one into a post now and then - in the interests of showin' off, of course.

The other day, reading a message board devoted to Les Les Misérables (the musical) I repeatedly came across the word leitmotif - had to Google it. For any passing reader in the dark, as I was, it comes from the German and is literally translated as "leading motif" or "guiding motif".
From Simple Wiki
Leitmotif is a German word meaning leading motif. It is a little musical theme that is often repeated in a piece of music, very often in opera. The leitmotif is linked in the musical story with a person or a thing or an idea. The leitmotif might be a short tune, but it can also be a rhythm or just a chord.

The word “leitmotif” is sometimes used in other things such as literature. In a book it might be an idea that keeps coming during the story. It can also be used in movies or video games.

The word “leitmotif” is particularly associated with the operas of Richard Wagner. The leitmotif helps to make the story dramatic and bind it together, because it makes the music easier to understand. Sometimes a leitmotif will change during an opera as the character changes. Various dramatic effects can be made with leitmotifs. For example, a leitmotif might be played before a character comes onstage, so the audience will know who is coming before the actor can be seen.
Leitmotifs or music themes are also used to dramatise movies. For example, the famous Jaws the me uses a leitmotif for the shark.
Another new, to me, word I stumbled upon: verklempt - also in relation to Les Miz, in a review from someone who had been to see the new movie. Urban Dictionary translates it from Yiddish (I think) as choked with emotion, on the verge of tears. (German verklemmt = emotionally inhibited in a convulsive way).

Yet another word of Yiddish origin I've heard or read in past weeks: kvetch. Free Dictionary: To complain chronically or habitually. From Yiddish kvetshn, "pinch, squeeze; complain."

Words originating from the Yiddish and German tend to pop up more frequently here than they did in the UK, I've noticed. A couple of words of German origin I was aware of but seldom use: schadenfreude – pleasure at someone else’s misfortune; and gestalt less easy to understand (for me anyway) there isn't a simple translation. Answers has this:
A physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.
Cue another memory: Back in the UK, during the year my husband lived there with me while I waited...and waited....and waited for the USA's long-winded immigration and visa processes to complete, we got the idea for a cartoon, which husband decided to illustrate - then we couldn't quite get the captions exactly right. Here they are, from the depths of his files. Was this an attempt to illustrate gestalt? I still don't understand the word!

In the UK many French words and phrases have slipped into common use over the years, sometimes with serious intention, sometimes as sarcasm or humour. Examples:
Voilà! Avant garde (use that often myself), bon voyage, c'est la vie! Quelle horreur! Quelle surprise! Vive la différence! Chez, chic, cliché. And what about the poseur and the raconteur - bringing on that old ennui?
Dozens more at Wiki

All of which brought to mind a McDonald's TV commercial which I cannot find still available online. Where it had been uploaded it is now been marked as "private" and is no longer available via YouTube. Dang! I wonder why it has been taken down when others are still available? A photograph of a frame from the ad. is the best I could manage. There's a description of the commercial at a blog Advertising Wizards HERE. The blog writer doesn't like the commercial though. I do, mainly thanks to the actor involved whose name I haven't yet discovered. He has exactly the right expression, tone and good timing - looks easy, probably isn't! It makes me chuckle whenever I happen to see it.

The "plot": Guy with McD's coffee cup sits on park bench looking straight ahead, apparently at a sculpture. A young woman sitting at the other end of the bench asks him if he's a fan of the sculptor (a French name) - guy looks slightly taken aback then says "He has a certain... je ne sais quoi." The young woman who had seemingly lost interest now perks up and says "Ah! Tu parles français'!" Guy: "Yeah. Oh yeah....all the time" (a lie of course). It does lose a lot in the telling.


mike said...

I have suffered embarrassment for mispronunciation of standard English words! Some of my more memorable attempts:
epiphany pronounced ipi-fany
cacophony pronounced kock-o-fony
Yosemite pronounced Yoz-e-mite

Greek and Roman mythology has many strange names such as Persephone, which I believe I pronounced Per-se-phony, until I received an inquiry as to whom I was referring.

And, lord knows what other words I've said, but the polite company didn't correct me!

I've typically been able to spell the words correctly and knew the meaning, but simply hadn't heard the words pronounced...I read a lot and guessed the pronunciation.

I took Spanish and Chinese in college, but rarely do words from those languages appear in English print. My older sister had several semesters of French and loved the years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy as First Lady...the French language had a bit of a renaissance at that time in the US.

mike (again) said...

Here's your McDonald's commercial:

Twilight said...

mike ~ Ah yes! Pronunciation traps - it's often a matter of where to place emphasis isn't it? There are some differences between UK and US on this. The word insurance for example - I put emphasis as: in-SUR-ance, whereas the husband says

Strange sounding or foreign proper names in novels always puts me off. if I'm unable to pronounce the names easily in my head - I've been known to ditch a book at around page 6 for that reason alone!

mike (again) - Wow! Thanks! I thought I'd scoured all likely places to find a copy of the video. Oddly the dialogue here seems just a tad quicker to unfold than I recall on TV - the timing of his remarks isn't quite as impressive as I remember it - my memory banks must be over-full. ;-)