14 June 2005

Expel the intruders

Many international contracts are written in french, I’m told, because the language is so precise that misunderstandings are minimized. I am willing to believe this. Translated exactly many french phrases are so precise they sound abrupt.

On a couple of my homework assignments, I’ve been given a group of words. There are five or six words per line, and one of the things is not like the others. The instructions read “chassez les intrus,” which translated directly tells me to “expel the intruders.” I like that! It has a certain dramatic flair that sounds silly in english.

There are exceptions though – specifically with numbers. In written format, not all numbers take the most direct route. Seventy, for instance, is written as “soixante dix” which means sixty and ten. We’re left to do the math ourselves. The higher the number, the stranger the logic. Eighty-three is written as “quatre vingt trois” or four twenties and a three. Even though a number like 98 looks simple, it is written as “quatre vingt dix huit,” which means – four twenties, a ten and an eight.

With few exceptions french is an efficient language. Translated it can sound stilted, but in its true form it is poetic.

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