Je suis une fille et une fille

In Language on October 2, 2010 at 9:03 pm

The other day in French class the professor was presenting a situation for us to discuss in partners: your house is a mess, there’s no food in the fridge and guests are arriving in a couple of hours.  What to do?

She was giving us useful vocabulary phrases, one of them being ‘femme de ménage’ – cleaning lady.  My friend Emily asked if you could say ‘homme de ménage’ – cleaning man, but no, that word doesn’t exist in French, which caused Martyn (the same one from the ‘Martyn Reaction’) to give me a wide eyed look, as though to say ‘Eh, write about that’.  Emily, Amy, and I were greatly amused. 

However, as the professor said, you can’t say ‘homme de ménage’ because it doesn’t exist, and it won’t exist because the committee that controls the French language would never include that.  This reminded me of a conversation I had with the parents of a family I stayed with while in France. 

During my study abroad a friend had brought to my attention that the word for woman and wife is the same, and the word for girl and daughter is the same.   

Woman = Femme

Wife = Femme 

Girl = Fille

Daughter = Fille 

In contrast, for the male gender, well, they have more obviously

Man = Homme

Husband = Mari

Boy = Garcon

Guy = Mec

Son = Fils

I asked my host parents about this, or tried to because they had no idea what I was talking about, so I wrote it out for them as I explained.  Initially they were still confused, because when I wrote out Husband – Mari and Wife – Femme, they kept trying to tell me there was a masculine and feminine form of ‘spouse’, which I was like, I know, that’s not what I’m talking about. Finally I was able to explain all the way through and they understood, completely amazed that they had never noticed it before.  I asked them why that was the case. “Is it because men control the French language?” I asked.  To which my host mom laughed “Why would you say something like that, we’re not allowed to speak of such things,” she said jokingly, while my host dad, blatantly said, “Yes. Men control the language and they’re sexist.”  At least he didn’t sugar coat it right?

I can’t believe after all these years, the French language still doesn’t have a separate word for wife and daughter; it is just baffling.  They can take the time to ‘Frenchify’ new English words, what’s up with that?

http://french.about.com/cs/francophonie/a/academie.htm (Information about the French Academy of Language)


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