Amuse-Bouche No. 10: The Language of Loveby Julia FreyAvoir le béguin is to have a crush, but je t’ai dans la peau (I’ve got you under my skin) has nothing to do with love. That’s lust.In the United States, we pull petals off daisies: “loves me, loves me not.” In France, where hairs are not split, but coupés en quatre (cut in quarters), plucking marguerites has SEVEN choices: Il m'aime, un peu, beaucoup, tendrement, passionnément, à la folie, pas du tout (he loves me, a little, a lot, tenderly, passionately, madly, not at all). Régine, mariée, divorcée, remariée, my informant in matters of the heart, explains:“If he is fou d'elle (crazy about her), he’d say je t’aime d'amour (with true love), de toute mon âme (all my soul) de toutes mes forces (ditto strength), ardemment (ardently), plus que le jour (more than the day), plus que ma vie (more than life itself). But his sweetheart would probably dismiss je t’idolâtre (idolize) as theatrics. And je te vénère (revere) would look like idolatry to good Catholics or Calvinists.“Je suis amoureux de toi (I'm in love with you) goes the other way, towards ‘smitten,’ and even ‘I've got the hots for you.’ Avoir le béguin is to have a crush, but je t’ai dans la peau (I’ve got you under my skin) has nothing to do with love. That’s lust.“Don’t forget s’amouracher. If you say ‘elle s’est amourachée de X,’ you imply she’s in love with a person you think is unworthy. After a breakup, someone may say ‘je me suis amouraché de lui/d’elle’ which implies ‘I goofed, I was stupid, I was crazy’ or ‘he/she dumped me.’“Friendship also makes fine distinctions: Je t’aime bien means ‘I like you a lot.’ Je t’aime beaucoup is stronger: ‘You mean a lot to me.’ But it has nothing to do with LOVE, i.e., LUV. It would be an absolute bummer to hear that from your amant (lover). Je t'aime de tout mon coeur means tendrement but is not necessarily LUV. A grandmother might say that to her grandchildren. Je te chéris (hold you dear) is a bit old fashioned. I remember a friend from the Sorbonne who used to say ‘Je chéris mes amis, je chéris mes souvenirs (memories),’ and so on, but he never said ‘Je te chéris’ to his mistress, whom I knew well.“The problem is partly that in English the word ‘friend’ can include people you hardly know. In French we have copain/copine (pal), camarade (buddy), petit ami (boyfriend), petite amie (girlfriend), but becoming an ami/e (true friend) takes time. Amant , pas nécessairement!”“The Surrealists demanded l’amour fou (crazy love). You had to perdre la tête (lose your head), aimer à la fureur (rage with love). Un amour éperdu (distraught, frantic) is violent but not exactly happy.”Indeed, the French like to be clairs, logiques, méthodiques, rationnels, solides, like the philosopher Descartes. But with so many words for passion, how can they say they’re cartésiens? Even Descartes had a love child with his Dutch cleaning lady. La maladie de l’amour is epidemic. Marguerite Duras in her 1986 novel La Maladie de la Mort considered it fatal. It certainly was for love-struck heroines like Chimène and Phèdre, who die in well-known French tragedies: Corneille’s Le Cid and Racine’s Phèdre. Bérénice, the heroine of two tragedies, one by each playwright, lucked out. She was merely horribly unhappy.Maybe that’s why Albert Cohen’s novel Belle du Seigneur (movie version out soon) has a cult following. It’s a 1,110-page satirical réquisitoire (indictment) of la grande passion. Its theme? La folie (the insanity, folly) of romantic love.© Julia Frey 2009
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  • Merci Olivier, pour tes kind words. En guise de remerciment, je vais en poster un autre.
  • Bonjour Julia,

    Quel bonheur de lire tes "petits essais" sur les multiples expressions françaises...quelqu'en soit le thême, je prends toujours un plaisir infini à savourer tes illustrations...tu décortiques les mots avec beaucoup d'humour...
    Keep it up Julia ! Olivier.
  • Hi Carol,

    You're my ideal reader! What a treat to have someone respond with puns. I guess a kiss is a definite "amuse bouche". We played word games in English at home when I was a kid, but I don't recall grammar challenges, even though my father's fiercest criticism was "You just used like as a conjunction!" I'll have to see what I can find out about word games in French salons. Somebody must know. I don't even know how common group wordplay still is in the US. Do people still play "fictionary"?
  • Hello Julia,
    Was just invited to join New York in French recently, and it's been great fun discovering your "amuse-bouche" I particularly enjoyed the previous one, re an "intello's" pastimes - I agreed with many of your observations and in fact, had noted that while my US-born kids and their peers would have definitely considered it decidedly "un-cool" to discuss finer points of grammar (even during their years at top universities in the country), their counterparts in France considered it normal, as I had while growing up in France. "Je te pose une colle" was an automatic challenge to everyone and usually stimulated a good discussion - I didn't notice the one-upmanship involved, as it generally felt like a group effort, but I suspect you could see that more clearly as an observer. I also wondered whether the custom has its roots in the salons of earlier centuries, any thoughts on that? As for love, one could go on and on.... Or is it possible that, regarding passion as well as French attitudes towards passion, the expression "aimer a la folie" says it all.... so have we now brought the 2 "amuse-bouche" together? Fun to think about, anyway! Carol
  • Merci Nathalie, Camille (et Amandine, sur le groupe "Advisory Board") for your comments and kind words. Pity there's no American novel with the impact on young women of Belle du Seigneur.

    My biggest struggle as I do these, is to keep the blog accurate! This always takes sending each new article in brouillon to des informateurs autochtones whose job it is to keep me from making gaffes. If anyone is interested in helping me out with this, or has any suggestions for future articles, please contact me by commenting here.
  • Belle du Seigneur, quel magnifique roman !
  • La France, les français, l'amitié et l'amour, une très grande histoire, joliment illustrée ici! Merci Julia!
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