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By Jim Rhodes
(Editor’s note: if you can read French words aloud, even poorly, you will probably find this hilarious. If you have absolutely no knowledge of French whatsoever, it will probably make no sense to you at all.)
Bonjour mes étudiants. La leçon d’aujourd’hui is a little-known literary device known as homophonic translation – in which the text is written in one language but its pronunciation is in another.
By far the finest practitioner of homophonic translation was an American movie actor who lived from 1906 to 1973. His name was Luis d’Antin van Rooten. He was born in Mexico and moved to America, where he had roles in a number of movies and TV dramas, and recorded voice-over for several Disney films. In publishing circles, he is better known as the author of The D’Antin Manuscript, a book of what appeared to be obscure French poetry, which he published in 1967 as Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames, complete with learned footnotes and medieval woodcut illustrations.
Hint … The trick to getting Mr. van Rooten’s homophonic gag is to read the words aloud to someone else. You may not catch on right away, but your listener almost certainly will. Start with the book’s title, Mots D’heures: Gousses, Rames. Say it a few times loudly and as fast as you can, and suddenly the light bulb will appear, and you will be reminded of a famous English-language book often found in children’s playrooms.
Here’s an example of Mr. van Rooten’s art…
Et Qui Rit Des Curés D’Oc?
Et qui rit des curés d’Oc?1
De Meuse raines,2 houp! De cloques.3
De quelles loques ce turque coin4
Et ne d’ânes ne rennes,
Écuries des curés d’Oc.5
Houer ne taupe de hile2
Tôt-fait, j’appelle au boiteur3
Chaque fêle dans un broc,4 est-ce crosne?5
Un Gille qu-aime tant berline à fêtard.6
For more of the same, you can order Mots D’Herures: Gousse Rames, and its companion volume N’Heures Souris Rames at the usual online book sites. You might also like his Book of Improbable Saints, An Irreverent Hagiography, where you’ll find fictitious characters such as “Saints Preserve and Protectus,” who are said to be especially popular among the Irish.