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Title: Harrap's Pardon My French
Project Editors: Georges Pilard and Anna Stevenson
Copyright: © 2004
Relevance: Harrap's Pardon My French features over 13,000 French colloquialisms and slang expressions, making it perfect for reporters and photographers working on the French-speaking streets, clubs and bars.
Review: Harrap's Pardon My French features the kind of French your high school French teacher would blush upon hearing. Within a standard French/English dictionary context, are thousands of off-color sexist, racist, homophobic, and slang words that most traditional French teachers are not aware of, let alone would have taught you in French class.
Reporters, correspondents and photographers following up on stories need to know "street French" when digging up stories in places where kids and other "regular people" gather. The book is unapologetically full of references to sex, drugs, alcohol, bodily functions, and racism, but are ideal for people who want to expand their French vocabulary by speaking "real" (that is, street) French.
This is not the kind of French one would use when interviewing a French government official. Rather, it is the kind of French you would use screaming at someone in the street or buttering up somebody in a bar. In short, this is the kind of French that people have been using for years, but has not been documented.
All of the words in Harrap's Pardon My French are slang and, therefore, should be used with caution (or not at all) in a formal context. There are, however, as the book clearly indicates different degrees of informality and the book uses symbols to denote increasing vulgarity (and hopefully, increasing caution).
Thematic panels -- basically shaded boxes -- give explanations and examples of a variety and often, the derivation of a particular slang word. Sometimes these thematic panels explain the subtleties of racist or particularly homophobic terms, as well as words having interesting etymologies.
Also advantageous for American and British reporters is that Harrap's Pardon My French also indicates where especially British or American slang is translated and has particularly different meanings. For example, the swear words "bloody" and "sodding" have special meanings for Britons, not completely understood by Americans and Canadians. Likewise, a word such as "dumbass" has a special connotation (and, perhaps, a fondness) for some Americans. The book notes these geographical differences and translates for the key demographs.
Also interesting is the occasional sidebar that represents a widening of the definition of the word and related terms. For instance, there is a good sidebar for insults; another for money; and one for the police; and yet another for sex. These expand the subject matter and present related words -- words that a typical dictionary would likely not itemize in the same category -- together in one convenient place.
For example, the verb "to have sex" has many slang equivalents. The most common is "baiser" which, in more innocent times, meant simply "to kiss". As any French man (or woman) will tell you, baiser is no longer used to indicate to kiss, and, therefore, using this term in an old fashioned way would be to misunderstand it and certainly court other situations. Baiser, the book notes, has several related words: baise, baiseur, or baiseuse, and baisable. The book also notes more humorous and recent inventions such as, "baisodrome" (a place where much sexual activity takes place) and the idiom "baise-en-ville" (an overnight bag).
Overall: we recommend Harrap's Pardon My French to any reporter who wants to be able to understand and speak street French and especially for those who need to insinuate themselves within the French subculture. Whether you're in a tiny coffee shop in Paris or a seedy bar in Marseille, the book will help. We would have liked to see an audio CD to accompany this book, but this criticism aside, we think that Harrap's Pardon My French is a handy, pocket size passport to communicate at a different level, a much different level.
End of Review
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