French Word a Day. It's written by Kristin, an American, married to a Frenchman and living in the Var with their two children. Every few days Kristin sends out her blog featuring a French word and its definition, along with notes on her life and always a beautiful photograph. Highly recommended whether you are a beginner in French or have been living here for years. You can even listen to one of her children speak the word. And she's also the author of the recently published, 'Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the south of France.' I love it. You can buy this from Amazon. com or Amazon. co.uk.
Recently the family bought a puppy, a golden retriever, so the word of the day was chiot (puppy)…and also chiotte. You can read that particular entry here.
We all know that un chiot is a male puppy, so une chiotte must be a female puppy – n’est-ce pas? After all, un chien is a male dog and une chienne is a female dog. Logical, yes? NO!
Reading Kristin’s blog reminded me of the day, some years ago, when I judged a prestigious dog show at Le Blanc in the centre of France – no less a show than the National Elevage of the Old English Sheepdog Club of France. I had to take the microphone after each class to explain my placings and to this day no one in the Old English Sheepdog world in France has ever told me that chiotte doesn’t mean female puppy.
I discovered my faux pas about four years ago when I went with my neighbour, Agnès, to help her choose a puppy – also a golden retriever like Kristin’s - to be called Shadow. We were talking about puppies and I noticed that Nicolas, her teenage son, was smirking in the background. He couldn’t stop and eventually I asked Agnès why he was giggling. ‘Be quiet, Nicolas,’ she said, ‘stop that.’ But he didn’t and I asked again and she explained that chiotte is rather impoli (rude) and she'd not wanted to tell me. 'So what does it mean?’ I asked. Rather sheepishly she said it was a rude word for the W.C. Later I looked it up in the dictionary and see the exact translation is ‘bog’ or 'john.' And now I learn from Kristin that it also means that wonderfully refined word 'crapper.'
From then on I made Agnès promise to tell me when I made a mistake in French…let’s hope she has…