Tutti-Frutti à la English sauce

Hot potato.

When they try to teach their pupils how to speak Shakespeare's language, French teachers have a trick. There are indeed many sounds and pronunciations in English that are alien to my fellow-citizens. That is natural, just like it is natural for a Brit to be enable to roll the Spanish R for instance. No matter whether you are young and motivated, it is still not that easy to pick up new sounds unless someone guides you, gives a known reference. As a result, to get an approximate Englishesque accent when talking about "Bob being my Uncle", we are said by our teachers to imagine that we speak with a mouthful of hot potatoes.

This has nothing to do with the passion of the Brits for Jacket Potatoes. It is just that the burning pain that you can easily imagine (or replicate at home if tempted) forces you to articulate words differently. And it kind of work. Kind of. It just gets very unhealthy to do your homework, that's all (too much carbs).

With that context in mind, you can certainly imagine the smile on my face when I saw this billboard. The Times is currently running a massive advertising campaign to raise awareness on its different domains of expertise: politics, sports, finance... Usually it is simply a visual and their logo, but this specific advert really stood out for me. It is simply very well written.

5-a-day and pronunciation

The reason why I really liked this ad is because it speaks to me. English is not that easy a language to master. And it is full of weird pronunciation and spelling tricks that continue to amaze me even today. Why don't you pronounce the W in Greenwich? Why does Gloucester sound like Glouster? And, like the little chap points out in the advert, why not spell Potato GHOUGHPHTEIGHTTEEAU instead? Seriously there are many reasons for foreigners to go bananas...

Bananas? Yes, I too was surprised the first time I heard this idiom. I rapidly realised what my interlocutor meant, i.e. getting crazy, but I did not understand why. In French we have also an expression referring to that fruit: we say of someone smiling that "he has the banana". This is a visual analogy in which the shape of the grin refers to the shape of the fruit. Easy to understand. But the English expression still puzzles me. Has this anything to do with Cockney rhyming slang? If you read these lines and have the clue to the riddle, feel free to share.

Having said that, I also realise that my native language is packed with idioms which refer to other fruits and vegetables. Not all are straight forward. For instance, your five-a-day French diet could follow this menu: to faint is "falling in the apples" (tomber dans les pommes) ; to mock someone is "paying one's pear" (se payer sa poire); to get fined is "getting a plum" (se prendre une prune); to wait for somebody for a long time is "doing the leek" (faire le poireau); to punch somebody is "giving a chestnut" (mettre un marron); to stick one's nose is "bringing my strawberry back" (ramener sa fraise); to speed is "pushing the mushroom" (appuyer sur le champignon); to stress someone out is "squeezing the lemon" (presser le citron)...

Reading these lines, I could suddenly understand that such a fruit salad could make an English pupils go bananas when learning French. Especially without a jacket potato in his lunch box!

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