French gets dethroned

After being for generations the second language de rigueur for well-bred Brazilians, French has given place to English. Now, in another débâcle for the tongue of Descartes and Voltaire, French is not required anymore from those willing to start a diplomatic career.

Wilson Velloso

Another Brazilian tradition bit the dust: French is no longer a compulsory language in the tough entrance
examination at the Itamaraty — a tradition laden and highly rated finishing academy for career diplomats.
The decision does not mean, of course, that French will be altogether shunned. Yet, it is a sad footnote in a
development recognizing that money and business are now more important than niceties, subtleties, delicacies,
refinements. Educated Brazilians of my generation — and of many others before ours — must feel a sense of loss, almost like
the passing of an old friend. Or at least like the death of a beloved pet.

True, such a development was in the cards. In truth, it took longer to come about than many of us feared. Since
classical Greek and German were dropped from the senior high school curriculum in the early forties, we knew that Latin
would be next. Then the Roman Catholic church, in her eagerness to meet the masses at their own level, discarded all
the mystery of its rituals by going folksy and giving Latin its
coup de grace.

In Brazil, educational reformers decreed a “mission impossible” the so-called
simplification of the Portuguese spelling. Thus an ancient, respected, and respectable lingo, older than Spanish in its separate evolution,
morphology, and grammar — was to become
phonetic. Any term judged foreign was supposed to shed the spelling
complications of the source language and be Brazilianized. Even if it meant using a forceps, a sledge hammer, a crowbar,
a triphammer, a bulldozer, or all five together. It spawned innumerable words and proper names and a mass display
of nationwide ignorance.

So the current fashion is to pretend that Brazilians ” — born great polyglots” even those who can hardly read —
are entitled to invent new spellings for old words. Words whose pronunciation they have no idea of. Unfortunately,
the Brazilian Academy of Letters is a lethargic bunch of superannuated authors. Not at all an ultimate authority
on language, as are the Real Academia of Spain, or l’Académie Française. So current Brazilian spellings not only
look dumb. They generated an attitude of contempt for logic, consistency, etymology, historical grammar, and of
respect for other people’s languages. It made any show of linguistic wisdom a mark of obsolescence, obduracy,
elitism, plutocracy and only God knows what else.

So we now have a thoroughly sub-suburban looking “Nova Iorque,” while York is written as before.
Traditional Portuguese forms for Moscow, Singapore, Antwerp have been reinvented as Moscou (taken from the French form
and sounding “moscoo,” Cingapura (an excruciating stupidity) and Antuérpia. It may be argued, to a degree of truth,
that too many French words were already used in Brazil by pedants. Show-offs preferred to say
petits-pois and champignons, instead of the more common “ervilhas” (peas) and “cogumelos” (mushrooms). There were also
other terms that seem to be French, but were sheer local fabrications, such as “baton”(lipstick) which of course is called
in French rouge à lèvres; “casse-têtes” (policeman’s truncheon) which the French call

bâton de gendarme. And
“sutiã” (bra) that does come from
soutien gorge (breast support). In this case, it was English that got it wrong, since bra
comes from brassière, the metallic arm
(bras) of a suit of armour, such as worn by knights of yore.

What’s going to happen to the high priests and priestesses of the
haute cuisine? The very same art of cooking
that according to French (who else?) author Blaise Cendrars, is the paramount part of the Triple Culinary Crown —
together with Brazilian cooking and Chinese cooking? Are they going to climb down from their pedestal and
pressure translators and interpreters to provide them with Brazilian equivalent terms? God forbid!

In any collection of such terms, one must begin with
chef de cuisine or chef. He’s the chief, the leader, the
boss, the commander on the bridge of a ship, as a complete kitchen has
been compared to. In America the “democratization” of the term made it
lose much of its brilliance. Today, in the trade they never talk about
“cook,” which has its own dignity and value: in practically every US
eatery, all the cooks are called chefs, including single solitary kitchen
hands in a sandwich joint that serves potato chips in bags.


The list of French culinary terms is immense. A quick perusal shows that some are no less than essential. For
instance, what will we say instead of hors
or mayonnaise? What dreadful names will make us forget all the
wonderful sauces and dressings, such as vinaigrette, hollandaise, marseillaise, niçoise, auvergnat, béarnaise
and specially pistou — made with mashed garlic and basil, plus tomato paste cheese, and olive oil?

What new names will such regal soups bear? What to call the delightful
vichyssoise which should be properly
honored by Americans — with its proper pronunciation, vee-shee-swah-ze — seen that it was born in New York City in

hands of the great chef Louis Diat, who launched a cold version of the traditional
potage Parmentier? Will onion soup satisfy the gentle reader as fully as the
soupe à l’oignon, with its rich bread garnishment and the lip-smacking
melted cheese? Can a petite bourgeoise onion soup, even when preceded by the adjective French, play the role of a
glorious golden key to a Bohemian night at four o’clock in the morning, in the centuries-old market,
Les Halles? Served, hot as the devil, in a brown
petite terrine with the worthy company of a light as breeze
Pelure d’oignon (onion skin) wine or a little more robust
Chateauneuf du Pape? Good God (“Bon Dieu”) just remembering is enough

ça suffit to make me cry!

Great knowledge and much talent will be required to rename such dishes as
bouillabaisse (ancestor to the New Orleans
Jambalaya), the quiches in their several local versions,
Niçoise, Lorraine,
Dijonnaise, etc., dishes à la
( in a manner the French believe to be Greek, that is cooked in marinade and served cold), the dainty and

delicate cuisses de grénouille ( very small and tender frogs’ legs),
escargots des vignerons de Bourgogne (snail from
Burgundy vineyards), tripes à la mode de
(a 13-hour metamorphosis of the lowly tripe into a fabulous monument to
the human palate), filet mignon, canetons aux
(duck with turnips), all sorts of
cassoulets (beef, pork, mutton, lamb stews). Also the

rôtis (roasts) of the lean French grassfed beef that often is
lardé to become juicy, succulent,
and marvelous.

Do you want something light and fast. You may pick an
anchoyade, a hot anchovy canapé, or a
pâté de foie gras,
pâté de campagne, pâté
, spread on pieces of crisp
baguettes, vol au vent, crudités
(raw vegetables) and one of several hundred cheeses: Roquefort, Brie de Meaux, Camembert, Pont l’Évêque, Saint Paulin, Cantal,
Sainte Maure, Belletoile triple crème, Dauphinois, Coulomiers, Reblochon, Valençay, St. Marcellin, Comté,
Beaumont, Boursin triple crème, Mimolette, Munster, Tomme de Savoie, Fromage au marc de raisins, Bleu de Bresse.

Will I dare mention desserts? Well, I must, since
dessert is itself a French word. Do you like
mousse? Compote? Profiteroles?
Crème caramel? Fraises
? Not being a cook myself, my knowledge of French
kitchen terminology is limited, but here are some terms I have heard:
en bain marie, poché,

grillé, bonne femme, au
, en croûte,
meunière, à la
, farci, à la
(meaning braised, not with ice cream added),

gratiné, au gratin, à la
(in the Bordeaux style), à
(Armorica is the ancient name of Brittany).

For a good measure, a few last French cuisine terms, not in any particular order:
pâte brisée, fonds de
(beef or chicken stock),

purée, aux champignons,
bourride (a soul-satisfying fish soup of Provence with garlic
mayonnaise), coquilles Saint Jacques (scallops),
riz de veau (veal sweetbreads), poule &
(hen and chicken, poule also means a woman of easy virtue, a bimbo, a tart),

sauté, rognons (kidneys), cervelle au beurre
(brains with burned butter sauce), sauté de lapin au vin
(sauteed rabbit with white wine),
homard (lobster), aubergine
(eggplant), tomates, huile d’olive (olive oil),

haricots verts (green beans),
cresson (water cress), escarole,
concombre (cucumber), cornichons (gherkins, small pickled cucumbers).

In the twelfth century, when William the Conqueror won the battle of Hastings and went on to rule the Saxons,
the French bequeathed the English language a fairly large number of household and farm terms. To the Saxon
breeder, a swine was a hog, but to the French courtiers who ate the pigs, it was
porc; and that’s why today we say and write pork. The ox, which we now call usually a steer, was

boeuf in French, and from that we got beef; shepherds bred
and tended sheep but as food comes mutton from the French
mouton; similar was the fate of calf, which the French
enjoyed at the table with the name of veau, from which we derived our veal.

No write-up about what the Brazilians are being forcibly deprived of in terms of the French language would
be complete without mentioning love and sex. Both are fields where the French traditionally excel and have quite
a reputation and where the Brazilians endeavor to compete courageously. Let’s examine a few of those words
and expressions that seem to confirm that “the difference… between opera and barbershop singing is much smaller
than the difference between sex as the last generation came to accept it and sex as it can be.”

First and foremost comes the billet doux, if and when one has the time to write a sweet note, a love note. There is
science and art in it. And I speak with the authority of one who has lectured singles’ groups on how to turn out the
most effective ones. Then comes bidet, a puzzling artifact in America but widely used in Europe (the UK excepted) and
Latin America, where it is deemed not only useful, comfortable for many uses and, above all hygienic. (Once in Rio,
when I was showing an apartment I wanted to let, a potential tenant, a lady who worked at the US Consulate
General, enquired me why the bathroom included such equipment. “Is it to bathe the babies in?” she mused innocently. I
could not resist the opportunity of a low-class pun: No, madam. It is to wash the babies out.”

It was the French who coined the expression faire
, which has one single meaning. In English, oddly
enough, “to make love” depends on the preposition. If you make love to G. you probably are limiting yourself to
kissing, petting, embracing. But if you make love with, well, you are on the right track, going all the way, having sex with
G. Colloquially, the French say baiser (to kiss) when kissing is not the main dish. They mean “to do it.” So, how do
they say to kiss? Embrasser (to embrace), sometimes enhanced by the addition of

sur la bouche (on the lips).

Cassolette means “perfume box,” but not literally. It does not come from being bathed in cologne or
expensive perfumes. It is the whole body, the sweet, attractive, irresistible odor of the entire body. A clean smell of
well shampooed hair, warm and silky skin, breasts, armpits (preferably unshaven and with the natural fragrance that
comes from using good soap and discreet perfumes), the genitals and the clothing she has worn. Nowadays, all these
essential qualities are demanded of the male partner too, although his body is called
cassolette only in very special circumstances and with special people. Particular attention should be given to how good
les fesses (the butt) smell.

How does one position oneself in relation to one’s partner is extremely important, and you all know it. The

however, have specific names for each. I don’t mean only

soixante-neuf, the very popular sixty-nine, but
croupade, à la
and cuissade, three slightly varied kinds of rear entry. Among the face to face postures, in
flanquette the woman and the man lie on their sides, she puts one leg between his, he reciprocates. This is a reverse
cuissade and is highly prized by couples who do it well, while riding the partner’s leg. There is a variation where both legs of
one partner are flanked by the legs of the other.

The “missionary position” is called in French
matrimonial. There is nothing wrong with it as many Brazilians —
and indeed people of all nationalities — can attest. But it should be part of an amorous

répertoire, never a routine. Incidentally, it was the playful Polynesians who set the term “missionary position” in circulation.

Have you heard of ombli (navel) as a venue of delightful
jeux d’amour (love games)? Well, even if it isn’t usually
an erogenous zone, it may become one, with the help of — attention! — whipped cream with a few drops of
Amaretto, Grand Marnier or Drambuie. It’s better to try it in summer or any season not requiring too much bedlinen. And,
for heaven’s sake, don’t worry if you make a bit of a mess. I’m assured that it is more comfortable, and enjoyable,
than eating crackers in bed, alone, and shedding crumbs around. Use your imagination but first consult your partner.
Does he/she object to vanilla ice cream with bits of nuts, or small pieces of peach, apricot, kiwi, whatever? What about
a strawberry, a cherry, raisins? A drop of mint liqueur, like Crème de Menthe, or Chartreuse, or perhaps Cointreau?

There is absolutely no rule either against sliding this treatment further down, if the bodies are willing no matter
what the Itamaraty Diplomatic School may say. Then
les grandes lèvres (big lips) come on their own, enjoy
themselves, please the small lips tasting them, and maybe smack them. It might evolve into a
feuille de rose (rose leaf), an exquisite “linguistic” exercise
covering the whole body and every one of its nooks and crannies. For
this experience to be really successful, though, a pit stop on a bidet is de rigueur. This will be confirmed by any “connoisseur” (an ancient
French word, now strictly English. It’s pronounced like “cono soor” as in Cono Sur of South America. The current
French word with same meaning has changed to

connaisseur as it comes from the verb “connaître” which
replaced “connoître” about two centuries ago. In this connection, research, if you will, the Japanese-looking French
term gamahuche.

To wrap this brief against the decreed demise of the French language in the lowest echelons of the
carrière, let’s have pattes
(spider’s paws) execute on a welcoming body, ear lobes, upper lip, nipples, inside the arms and
legs, groins, armpits, foot soles, nape, temples, belly, lower back, their breezy digital dance at the preferred rhythm,
eliciting sighs and cries of maman,
mamãe, mama, Mutti,


Finally, please be informed that condoms are called in French
capottes anglaises (or capots
) honoring Her Britannic Majesty’s Dr. Condom, who invented them to protect against V.D. the British soldiers then “touring”
Egypt. In a wrongful reprisal for the perceived insult, the English — in a rare lapse of humour — began to call them
“French letters.” Et la contredanse est finie

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