A guide to the nymphs of France

img_2682Just in case we need it today, here’s a practical guide to keeping your nymphs straight, from the immortal Pièges et difficultés de la langue française, by Jean Girodet. This book is so indispensable that I have two copies–one for at home in France, and one for when I’m in the US. Mind you, I couldn’t find an entry in it on the subject of whether or not you use the subjunctive after the word possibilité–but, at least I have some confidence that if I need to talk about a nymph today, I’ll use the correct noun…

Go ahead, end this sentence without a preposition–if you can…

Of all of my students, this is the one on whom my work habits rubbed off. 

Déteindre sur: to rub off on. Ton pull à déteint sur ma chemise–il ne fallait pas les mettre ensemble au lavage.   (Collins French-English Dictionary)  Why ensemble and not ensembles, I have no clue…

Observed agreement, expected agreement, and chins

Imaginez qu’au lieu de bien zyeuter les crânes…

Screenshot 2017-08-29 06.26.00
Source: Yadav et al. (2017), Semantic relations in compound nouns: Perspectives from inter-annotator agreement

Question : Coucou, C’est quoi Cohen’s kappa ?

Réponse : Ce n’est pas moi, ce Cohen.  🙂  Cohen’s kappa est une façon de calculer l’accord entre deux personnes.  Par exemple : Diap. 11, les deux personnes sont d’accord l’une avec l’autre 4/5, donc 80% des fois.  Cohen’s kappa essaie de prendre en compte la possibilité d’être d’accord juste par hasard.  On peut dire que la probabilité d’être d’accord juste par hasard, c’est 50% en ce cas.  Imaginez qu’au lieu de bien zyeuter les crânes, chacun fait pile/face.  On a donc ces possibilités :

  • Kevin oui, Mayla oui : 0.25
  • Kevin oui, Mayla non : 0.25
  • Kevin non, Mayla oui : 0.25
  • Kevin non, Mayla non : 0.25
Voilà les deux cas où ils sont d’accord :
  • Kevin oui, Mayla oui : 0.25
  • Kevin non, Mayla non : 0.25
0.25 + 0.25, cela fait 0.50.  Donc, ils peuvent être d’accord 0.50 (50%) des fois… par hasard–rappelez-vous qu’ils ont fait pile/face.
Le calcul du kappa de Cohen, cela se fait comme ça :
  • Accord experimenté – Accord prévu par hasard = 0.80 – 0.50 = 0.3
…divisé par accord prévu par hasard, donc
  • 0.3 / 0.5 = 0.6
…donc on prévoit que le kappa de Cohen, c’est toujours moins que l’accord “cru.”  Vu que l’on ne veut pas surestimer la performance, on utilise le kappa de Cohen pour éviter cela.

Question :  C’est un genre de coefficient correcteur de réalité j’ai l’impression pour ne pas s’emballer sur des résultats in vivo qui parfois peuvent être faussés par le caractère très humains des annotateurs.  Enfin je crois comprendre ça 🙂

Réponse : Tu l’as dit mieux que moi !  🙂
Why would anyone want to label skull specimens as to whether or not they have chins?  See this post, and be sure to read MELewis‘s comment.


French notes

l’accord inter-annotateur : inter-annotator agreement.  See a nice set of slides on the topic, in French, here.
zyeuter : to scrutinize.  It seems like a soutenu word, but given the book where I ran across it, I would expect it to be familier.  (Comment from native speaker Phil dAnge: zyeuter is definitively not “soutenu”but completely “familier, limite argot ”)

Your hands and how you feed your children

On an atypical day, the biggest hardship that one has to overcome is explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting due to forgetfulness about not rinsing your toothbrush in the tap water.

That curly thing (it’s called a “pigtail”) is a catheter sitting in the left ventricle of the heart. Frame D is what it looks like when a healthy heart contracts–if you’ve had damage from a heart attack, you’ll see it here as a section of the chamber that doesn’t contract. Picture source: https://goo.gl/MaS89j

One week a year I get on a plane with a bunch of surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, and therapists and head to Guatemala, where everyone else spends the week providing free surgery for people for whom the almost-free health care provided by the government medical system is still too expensive, and I spend the week interpreting.  Don’t get totally lost in Doctors Without Borders fantasies–we stay in a lovely hotel, the surgeries happen in a four-OR operating suite, and on a typical day the biggest hardship that one has to overcome is finding someone to relieve you so that you can get to the cafeteria before the hand-made Guatemalan tortillas (yes, they’re different from the ones that you’re used to) are gone.  (On an atypical day, the biggest hardship that one has to overcome is explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting due to forgetfulness about not rinsing your toothbrush in the tap water–but, as I said, that’s atypical.)

The left ventricle needs to get filled with dye far more quickly than your hand could inject it, so you need a special pump to slam it in quickly. Picture source: https://goo.gl/1S41Am

When new interpreters join us for the first time, the thing that they’re most worried about is the medical vocabulary.  However, that’s actually the least of your problems–medical vocabulary is more or less finite, and you can buy a book about it, memorize it, and modulo local dialect differences (every cardiac catheterization lab that I ever worked in had a different name for the special pump that you use to shoot a bolus of radiopaque dye into the left ventricle), you’ll be just fine.  (Modulo is explained in the English notes at the end of the post.)

The real problem is everything but the medical vocabulary.  Think about this: a patient presents themself to the surgeon.  They’re missing two fingers, and one is just hanging there, useless.  The surgeon’s first question: what happened?  The answer could be anything.  

  • I was getting out of my car and three guys attacked me with a machete.
  • I fell into the cooking fire.
  • I was sitting in a truck and the carburetor exploded.

I didn’t make any of these up, and the cooking fire thing happens tragically often–mostly with children.

I mostly work with a hand surgeon.  The basic principle of hand surgery is this: make the person be able to function again at whatever they do.  You often have to make choices about trade-offs–a surgery that would let you open your hand again after it’s been scarred into a fist by burns might leave you with a weak grip, and that’s going to be a problem for a farmhand; a surgery that would give you back your full grip strength might make it tough for you to do things that require fine motor control, which is not OK if you’re a seamstress.  Consequently, one of the questions that the hand surgeon always asks is: what do you do for a living?  …and that could be pretty much anything.  

So, yeah: it’s not the technical vocabulary that keeps you on your toes in medical interpreting–it’s the entire remainder of the language, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that the statistical properties of human languages are such that if you’re not a native speaker, you will come across vocabulary items that you don’t know Every. Single. Day. Of. Your. Life.

The shirts are called huipiles. In the Guatemalan highlands, you will see women wearing them every single day. Weaving one takes about a year. Picture source: https://goo.gl/SpjLW3

For today’s vocabulary, here are some words for professions that require quite a bit of use of your hands.  Note that almost any profession requires some use of your hands–I’m picking just a few here, focussing on ones that you wouldn’t be surprised to come across in low-income people in Central America.  If you have almost no education, and you’re doing any of these for a living, and you lose the use of a hand, your options for feeding your children become quite limited.  Hand surgery is about removing those limitations.  Want to support this kind of work?  Twenty bucks from you would literally pay for more than all of the pain medication that we’ll hand out in one week’s time.  You can donate here.

English Spanish French
farmhand granjero  ouvrier agricole
farmer  agricultor  fermier, agriculteur
gardener jardinero jardinier
seamstress modista  couturière
tailor  sastre  tailleur
waiter/waitress  mesero, camarero  serveur
weaver tejedor/a tisseur, tisserand
 carpenter carpintero  charpentier
 construction worker el albañil  ouvrier du bâtiment

English notes

modulo This is originally a term from mathematics.  In casual use, it means something like with the exception of, or besides.  I should point out that this word is characteristic of the speech of geeks, and only geeks–but, amongst my people (geeks), it’s quite common.

This example should be incomprehensible to any normal human, but I find it adorable due to exactly that incomprehensibility–“init” refers to a common part of a program, and the writer is saying that she’s left the “init” part out of what she’s showing you:

How it was used in the post: Medical vocabulary is more or less finite, and you can buy a book about it, memorize it, and modulo local dialect differences, you’ll be just fine. 

themselfHere we get into the controversial topic of pronouns in the Pacific Northwest, the part of the United States where I grew up.  Many native speakers of American English would balk at this pronoun, as well as theirself, which we also use in the Pacific Northwest.  Another vagary of our local use of pronouns is that when you have a subject that consists of two conjoined pronouns, they have to be in the dative: Me and him are going to the store, do you want some Redman?  Here’s a nice article on the themself form from the Merriam-Webster web site, which points out that themselves (which every other native speaker thinks us Pacific Northwest natives should be using) didn’t show up in English until the 1400s, with themself being the only possibility up to that point.

How it got used in the post: Think about this: a patient presents themself to the surgeon.  They’re missing two fingers, and one is just hanging there, useless.  

French notes

There are two French words that could translate the English word “carpenter:” charpentier, and menuisier.  Looking them both up on Google Images, it seems to be the case that a charpentier is a carpenter in the sense of someone who builds buildings, while a menuisier is a carpenter in the sense of a woodworker.  Native speakers, do you have thoughts about this?

Hits for charpentier from Google Images:

Hits for menuisier from Google Images:

…and, yes, this is how linguists try to figure things out.  We’re actually less excited about dictionaries than you might think…

Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement

The “covfefe” tweet. Picture source: https://goo.gl/ucYXdr

Donald Trump–also known as The Molester-In-Chief, Draft-Dodger-In-ChiefLiar-In-Chief, Traitor-In-Chief, and undoubtedly many similarly uncomplimentary epithets by the time our current national nightmare ends–has been nicely trolled by Representative Mike Quigley, D-Ill.  His COVFEFE Act–Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically For Engagement–aims to amend the Presidential Records Act to include the social media that Trump so loves to use to troll the rest of us.  The name of the act ridicules a stupid Trump tweet–see the picture above.  The Presidential Records Act defines the requirement that US presidential records be preserved.  Trump loves to communicate via social media, and also loves to flat-out deny ever having said things that he manifestly did, in fact, say–often on social media.  Quigley’s COVFEFE Act would define social media posts as presidential records, which would prevent Trump from deleting the evidence of his lies–at least the lies that he told on social media.  The Republican-controlled House of Representatives (roughly the American equivalent of the French Assemblée Nationale) will almost certainly block it, but in the meantime: the Troller-In-Chief has been nicely trolled.  You can read about the COVFEFE Act here–relevant French and English vocabulary explained below.

English notes

draft dodger: the draft is the mechanism for summoning people to obligatory military service.  A draft-dodger, then, is a person who illegally avoids joining the armed forces (Merriam-Webster).  Trump famously avoided military service during Vietnam by claiming to have flat feet, and then announced that he would be the most physically fit president ever.


French notes

le traiteur: this is one of the more puzzling words for newly-arrived Americans in France.  It appears all over Paris, most visibly on the signs of Chinese restaurants.  To us, it looks like the English word traitor.  However, it means something like “someone who sells prepared foods.”  WordReference.com defines it as caterer, but as far as I can tell, it’s a lot more general than that.

le traître: traitor.


PITA ferret: the informal imperative

What’s a Jewish mother’s favorite metro station? Read to the end of the post and you’ll get the answer, plus a video of a ferret.

Picture source: the Le Coin du français blog. https://goo.gl/jN0fh8

I never stop being amazed at how basic some of the mistakes that I still make are, even after three and a half years of intensive study of la langue de Molière.  Case in point: the spelling of the tu form of the imperative.  The thing that you have to remember is that it doesn’t have an at the end–except when it does.

The wonderful Lawless French web site gives this explanation of the general rule (keep going for some exceptions):

The imperative tu conjugation for –er, –frir, and –vrir verbs is the present tense minus the final s.

Here are some examples from the Nouvel Obs’s (the form of this genitive explained below in the English notes) description of the informal imperative:

  • Rentre immédiatement !
  • Ne discute pas !
  • Va voir tes grands parents !

OK, an exception: when the verb is followed immediately by or en, you have an at the end.  Here’s the explanation from the Français Facile web site:

Cependant, devant « en » et « y » qui  suivent immédiatement le verbe, on ajoute un « s » au verbe en « er » à l’impératifsingulier, et on le joint par un trait d’union comme tous les pronoms qui suivent un impératif.

Ex. Amènes-y ta soeur.

Cette règle s’applique aussi au verbe « aller »

Ex. Vas-y.

Fiez-vous à votre oreille. Si vous prononcez le verbe et que le son vous paraît étrange, il peut y avoir un problème.

Mange-en, sans « s » sonnerait d’une façon étrange à l’oreille.

EX :

À Londres, vas-y si tu veux, mais amènes-y ta soeur et rapporte-moi un cadeau.


OK: that’s the “first group” verbs (-er)–we’ll return to the –frir and -vrir verbs that Laura mentions in a bit.  For -ir and -re verbs, the is always present.

Now: some exceptions.  First, as we’ve seen before, verbs that end in -frir or –vrir sometimes have odd behaviors.  (See this post if you want some insights into what they have in common, and how they differ phonologically from other –ir verbs.)  These verbs do not have an in the informal imperative…

  • Couvre ta bouche quand tu tousses, dégueu !

…except when they do, which is the same as when the first-group (-er) verbs do, i.e. when followed by en or y.

  • Couvres-en un peu avant d’attraper une pneumonie.  (Reverso)

(Native speakers: do you have dissenting opinions about this?  I had to ask around a bit…)

Almost at the end!  Just four verbs that are totally irregular in this respect:

  • Aller: Va te faire voir, but vas-y !
  • Être: always s-final: Sois beau et tais-toi.
  • Avoir: N’en aie pas marre, c’est bon pour les pépitos ! …but Aies-en de meilleures (notes), tes profs te féliciteront
  • Savoir: Sache qu’elle a vomi ce matin, alors que le thon était frais,  but saches-en plus pour réussir ton examen.

So, the Jewish mother: here’s the first joke I ever understood in French.  I’m minding my own business in the basement of a bar near the St-Sebastien Froissart metro station (none of your business why I was in the basement of a bar near the St-Sebastien Froissart metro station, or why I’m ever in the basement of any bar anywhere, for that matter) when I heard the following from the table behind me: La station de métro d’une mère juive, c’est laquelle ?  Monge, parce qu’elle dit “mange, mange, mon fils.”  In English: what’s a Jewish mother’s favorite metro station?  Monge, because she says “eat, eat (in French, mange, mange), my son.”  Now, this is interesting on a number of levels; the one that I’d like to point out is that it might only make sense to someone who does not speak hexagonal French, and that might be the only reason that I got it.  As a monolingual native speaker of English, I can’t hear the difference between the vowels of mange and Monge–we don’t have contrasting nasalized vowels in English, and those two in particular are particularly impossible for me to hear, and pretty tough to pronounce, too, leading me to say things like marde, je t’ai trempée (“shit, I got you wet”–marde is a Canadianism that I can’t seem to get past) and getting responses like “but we’re not going out together!”…which suggests that I pronounce it as je t’ai trompée, “I cheated on you.”   I’ll throw in to the mix the fact that I’m told that pieds-noirs (the pieds-noirs, “black feet,” are the French who returned to France after France lost Algeria as a colony in 1962–maybe 800,000 people) don’t differentiate between the nasalized vowels an and on, either.  Not surprising–differences in the nasalized vowel inventory are a common feature of francophone dialect differentiation, including in France.  What does this joke have to do with the subject of this post?  It only works with the informal imperative, i.e. mange, mange (“eat, eat”)–with the formal or plural imperative (mongez, mongez), “eat” doesn’t sound anything at all like the name of the metro station (Monge), and you have no joke.

Here’s a video that has approximately a bazillion examples of the informal imperative.  There’s a bit of vocabulary that might help you out here, if you’re not a native speaker of French:

  • le furet : ferret.
  • relou : here’s the best I can do for a definition of this word, which I haven’t found in a French-English dictionary as of yet: Relou” est un mot verlan (langage des rues semblable à un ver lent grignotant doucement… ) signifiant “lourd”. Dans un contexte particulier, désigne une action/personne qui a fait/dit une chose qui a déplu à l’émetteur de ce mot.  Source: lachal.neamar.fr.  The source gives these synonyms: casse-couille (familier), chiant (familier), casse-pied, and lourd.  So: maybe irritating, or “pain in the ass?”

English notes

PITA: a less-shocking way of saying “pain in the ass.”  This is something somewhat more than annoying.  Assembling the appropriate forms in order to be able to fill out the forms that you need in order to get permission to ask for (more) permission from the Dean’s office before doing any international travel is a PITA.  (I’m talking about America here–everything you’ve ever heard about French bureaucracy being worse than American bureaucracy is bullshit, period.)  My old neighbor was a PITA–always complaining if anyone parked in front of her house, although she didn’t have a car.  The constant flood of papers that you have to review when you’re on Christmas vacation is a PITA.  The ferret in the video is being a PITA to the cats–hence relou.

An excellent example, both using and defining the abbreviation:

Of course, if we can have an example with a cat, all the better, seeing as how we’re on the Interwebs and all…

A geeky example, but a very good one–you could hear this around my lab in the US any day of the week:

 and now you have to know what this means:

Any day of the week: (at) any time.

An idiot:

Gratuitous picture of a guy with no shirt on:

Obama at Hiroshima: American English listening practice

My judo friends cry at Hiroshima, and they are a hell of a lot tougher than I am.

I know some really, really tough young people.  Guys and girls, they all are, or recently have been, nationally-ranked judo players.  These are kids who have, for most of their lives (typically they started at 5 years of age), spent two hours straight, three times a week, getting pounded into a thin tatami.  They spend their weekends going to tournaments where they walk onto a mat with a stranger who will try to slam them into that mat again–hard.  These are the bravest, toughest, strongest people I know–and also probably the kindest.  At some point in their studies, we try to send them to Japan to study for the summer.  While they’re there, they go to visit Hiroshima.  When they visit Hiroshima, they do the same thing that I did in Nagasaki–they cry.

The “hold” of a ship is a big empty space belowdecks where you can transport things in bulk–see the compartment labelled 10 in this illustration. Picture source: https://forshipbuilding.com/ship-types/cargo-ship/

When I was a child, I didn’t have books of my own–so, I read my father’s books.  He has always been into first-person accounts of survival in conditions of crisis, and we had piles of relevant books around the house, so that’s what I grew up reading about.  Consequently, long before puberty I knew about the two philosophies of how to manage the limited resources of your once-a-month Red Cross package in a German prisoner of war camp; the mechanics of soup distribution in Soviet gulags; and what it feels like to watch a buddy die of dehydration in the hold of a Japanese prisoner transport ship.  My point: I know what happened in that war, and I know who did what to whom.  I also understand that dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki prevented the almost inconceivable bloodbath that an amphibious invasion of Japan–and the nationwide bombing that would have preceded it–would have brought to the world.  And still: I cried at Nagasaki.  My judo friends cry at Hiroshima, and they are a hell of a lot tougher than I am.  Life is complicated, people are complicated, the world is complicated.  Be as zen as you like: anything of interest is still going to be complicated.  Simplistic bullshit is just that: simplistic bullshit.

Of the four language skills–speaking, listening, reading, and writing–none is harder than listening.  Want to practice your American English listening skills?  You could do worse than this beautiful, complex, and subtitled speech by former President Barack Obama.  The vocabulary is quite advanced; in recompense, his pronunciation is clear and beautiful.  I checked the subtitles up to 8:20, and they’re quite good.  It’s pathetically depressing to contrast the infantile rants of Trump with the nuanced thought and articulate self-expression of President Obama; it’s even more depressing to think that your own country could have experienced an Obama, and then turned around and elected a Trump, a king of simplistic bullshit…  French notes after the video.

French notes

La cale d’un navire est l’espace où sont entreposées les marchandises, le produit de la pêche ou autres entités transportées (lest). Elle se situe sous le pont et est recouverte par un panneau de cale s’appuyant sur des hiloires.  (Wikipédia)

entreposer: to store, to stock; to put in a customs-bonded warehouse (I don’t know what that means, but Word Reference says it’s so)

le lest: ballast.  The is pronounced, so don’t confuse this with leste…