double entendre

by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©2014 by Paul Niquette. All rights reserved.
 
double entendre n. A figure of speech that signifies an expression with two interpretations, one of which is risqué. 
To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first delivery of a keynote address entitled Metaphors of Modern Management, I set about to write an epilog for the Internet version.  The essay features a collection of 35 double entendres.  That may be a world record.  As an octogenarian now living in France and struggling to learn the language, I decided to make sure I am using the phrase correctly.  I am.  In English, that is.  But in French?  Not so much.  Consider what this reference says...
The phrase has its etymological origins in French - double having the same meaning in both languages and entendre meaning "to hear"; however the English phrase is grammatically incorrect and is a corruption of the original French phrase à double entente, meaning a double understanding or double interpretation (literally, "with a double hearing"). The modern French rendering is double sens and the English phrase is more or less meaningless.
"Meaningless"?  I began wondering what other French expressions have gotten messed up in English...
  • hors d’oeuvre -- term used for the snacks served with drinks before a meal. Literally "outside of the work." The French use apéritif to refer to the time before a meal along with the food and drink consumed during that time.
  • leger de main -- "sleight of hand" usually in the context of deception or the art of stage magic tricks, means nothing in French and has no equivalent.
  • maitre d’ -- translates from English as "master of."  The French never use "d" (dee); indeed it is blended in maître d'hôtel (doh-tel) and means "master of the establishment."
  • negligee -- a robe or a dressing gown, usually of sheer or soft fabric for women. The French use négligé (masculine form, with accents) or nuisette. Négligée qualifies a woman who neglects her appearance.
Fortunately, my searches did find more than 250 French expressions that have preserved their meanings in English.  I have been using all of them over the years for they often work better than their English synonyms...
à la carte, à la mode, à propos, adieu, allons-y, amateur, apéritif, armoire, art nouveau, attache, au contraire, au courant, au fait, au gratin, au jus, au pair, au revoir, avant-garde, avoirdupois, baguette, ballet, banquette, beaucoup de, beau geste, beaux-arts, belles-lettres, blasé, bon appétit, bon mot, bon vivant, bon voyage, boulevarde, bourgeois, bouquet, bric-à-brac, brioche, brunette, bureau, ça ne fait rien, cache, cachet, café, café au lait, canard, carte blanche, c’est la vie, chaise longue, chanteuse, charge d’affaires, chauffeur, chef d’œuvre, cherchez la femme, chez, chic, chignon, cinéma vérité, clique, commandant, comme ci comme ça, communiqué, concierge, confrère, contre-jour, contretemps, coquette, cordon bleu, corniche, cortège, coup d’état, coup de grâce, coup de maître, coup d’œil, couture, couturier, crèche, crème brulée, crème de la crème, crème fraiche, crêpe, crêperie, critique, croisant, cul-de-sac, de rigueur, de trop, déclasse, décolleté, décor, découpage, dépôt, demi-sec, demi-tasse, déjà vu, dénouement, dérailleur, dernier cri, derrière, détente, digestif, divertissement, doyenne, dressage, du jour, eau de toilette, eau de vie, éclair, éclat, élan, en bloc, en garde, en passant, en pointe, en route, enfant terrible, ennui, entente, entre nous, entrée, entremets, entrepreneur, escargot, esprit de corps, étude, excusez-moi, extraordinaire, façade, fait accompli, faute de mieux, faux, faux pas, femme fatale, fiancé, film noir, flambe, flambeau, fleur-de-lis, foie gras, force majeure, forte, froideur, gaffe, garçon, gauche, gaucherie, gendarme, genre, gite, glissade, grand prix, grenadier, habitué, haute couture, hauteur, hors d’œuvre, idée fixe, impasse, ingénue, j’adoube, je ne sais quoi, joie de vivre, laissez-faire, lamé, liaison, lingerie, littérateur, macramé, madame, mademoiselle, malaise, manque, mardi gras, marque, matériel, mélange, mêlée, ménage à trois, milieu, mise en table, montage, mot juste, motif, mousse, naïve, née, n’est-ce pas, noblesse oblige, nom de guerre, nom de plume, nouveau, nouvelle, nouveau riche, objet d’art, objet trouve, œuvre, omelette, panache, papier-mâche, par avion, par excellence, parvenu, pas de deux, pastiche, père, peloton, penchant, pince-nez, plage, plat du jour, poseur, prairie, protégé, provocateur, raconteur, raison d’être, rapport, rapprochement, reconnaissance, renaissance, répertoire, reportage, répondez s’il vous plait, restaurateur, riposte, rôle, roman a clef, sabotage, saboteur, sang-froid, sans, saute, savant, savoir-faire, silhouette, sobriquet, soirée, sombre, soupe du jour, tableau, tête-à-tête, touché, tour de force, tout de suite, tranche, triage, venue, vin de pays, vinaigrette, vis-à-vis, vivre la différence, and voilà.
...and I am confident that they will be understood by my neighbors. Meanwhile, I shall be pleased to use calembour ("pun") instead of double entendre.
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Épilogue
Bernard Hinault et moiA week after publishing this entry, I received a world-renowned visiter in Jugon-les-Lacs.  Bernard Hinault is the most famous bicyclist in France.  He won the Tour de France five times (1978. 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985).  Now, on behalf of the 2014 Tour de Rance, Hinault came to my home to secure the le Grand Bi (The Big Bicycle) to be displayed at the starting line.

As the author of A Certain Bicyclist I was flabbergasted (sidéré) as I shook his hand then suffered anguish (angoisse) while stammering, “C’est un honneur de vous rencontrer, Monsieur Hinault.”
In preparation for the upcoming event later that year, I began studying various topics in bicycle racing and found myself taking une leçon de français
à bloc, arrière du peloton, autobus, bidon, caravane, cassette, chicane, commissaire, criterium, danseuse, dérailleur, directeur sportif, domestique, échelon, espoir, étape, flamme rouge, hors catégorie, hors délai, isolés, lâché, maillot jaune, musette, palmarès, panier, panache, parcours, peloton, prime, puncheur, rouleur, soigneur, stagiaire, and tête de la course
The autobiographical Hinault par Bernard Hinault ISBN : 2-84724-092-6 traces his cycling accomplishments to his years as un cycliste postal.  Hmm.  That gives me an incentive to translate my treatment of the subject for Hinault’s comments.


commuter

A certain American became especially enthusiastic about bicycles in 1972 while conducting a five-year experiment as a commuter in The Post Petroleum Age. No big deal, looking back 40 years.  Besides, his irregular reputation had already been establish as a Commuter in the Sky. 
One might imagine his disappointment to learn that there is no French word for commuter.  The closest definitions provided for the intransitive verb commuer are not words but phrases [a] faire la navette to do the shuttle and [b] faire un trajet journalier (à son travail) to make a daily journey (to one's work)
Accordingly, it seems most appropriate that the noun commuteur (-euse) be coined by an American neologist in France and offered herewith as a gift to the French for commuter.