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  1. #1
    suprunp's Avatar
    suprunp is offline Senior Member
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    Default French phrases in English stories

    He did not take the suggestion very seriously. “On ne sait jamais,” he said.
    [...]
    he saw the appraising glance she gave him and then, pretending that he had noticed nothing, he caught the phrase, il n’est pas mal.
    (W.S. Maugham; His Excellency)

    I would surmise that W.S. Maugham took it for granted that his compatriots knew French. Is it so or is there something else to it?

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    SoothingDave is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: French phrases in English stories

    There are many "stock phrases" in French that a large number of literate English speakers would know. Like "Je ne sais quoi" or "c'est la vie."

    The phrases in the text you quote are not familiar to me. I reckon the latter means something like "It's not so bad," but that's just my 3 years of high school French coming back to me.

  3. #3
    BobSmith is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: French phrases in English stories

    Often when watching movies, foreign dialog will not be translated in subtitles. I assume this is to mirror the experience of the non-foreign language speaking characters. To me, this passage works in the same fashion. My $0.02.

  4. #4
    BobSmith is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: French phrases in English stories

    Quote Originally Posted by BobSmith View Post
    Often when watching movies, foreign dialog will not be translated in subtitles. I assume this is to mirror the experience of the non-foreign language speaking characters. To me, this passage works in the same fashion. My $0.02.
    On second thought, no it doesn't. He states "he caught the phrase" which means he understood it. I think you're correct; "W.S. Maugham took it for granted that his compatriots knew French."

  5. #5
    Barb_D's Avatar
    Barb_D is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: French phrases in English stories

    One never knows what went through the mind of the author.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  6. #6
    SoothingDave is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: French phrases in English stories

    Quote Originally Posted by BobSmith View Post
    On second thought, no it doesn't. He states "he caught the phrase" which means he understood it. I think you're correct; "W.S. Maugham took it for granted that his compatriots knew French."
    I read that like the character was not understanding the French conversation fully, but he did catch a phrase he understood.

  7. #7
    paysage57 is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: French phrases in English stories

    "il n'est pas mal" = he his good looking

  8. #8
    bhaisahab's Avatar
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    Default Re: French phrases in English stories

    Quote Originally Posted by paysage57 View Post
    "il n'est pas mal" = he his good looking
    Literally it means "He is not bad (looking)" "looking" is implied.

  9. #9
    bhaisahab's Avatar
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    Default Re: French phrases in English stories

    W. Somerset-Maugham was born in Paris to English parents and his first language was French. Also, he would probably have assumed that people of his class and education would understand at least some French.

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