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Ici on parle Franglish.

July 20, 2017

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


  1. Oc (or Languedoc), ancient region of France, with its capital Toulouse. Its monks and curates were, it seems, a singularly humble and holy group. This little poem is a graceful tribute to their virtues.
  2. Meuse, or Maas River, 500 miles long, traversing France, Belgium and the Netherlands; Raines, old French word for frogs (from the L., ranae). Here is a beautiful example of Gothic imagery; he who laughs at the curés d’Oc will have frogs leap at him from the Meuse river and
  3. infect him with a scrofulous disease! This is particularly interesting when we consider the widespread superstition in America that frogs and toads cause warts.
  4. “Turkish corners” were introduced into Western Europe by returning crusaders, among other luxuries and refinements of Oriental living. Our good monks made a concession to the fashion, but N.B. their Turkish corner was made of rags! This affectation of interior decorating had a widespread revival in the U.S.A. at the turn of the century. Ah the Tsar’s bazaars’ bizarre beaux-arts.
  5. So strict were the monks that they didn’t even indulge themselves in their arduous travels. No fancy mules nor reindeer in their They just rode around on their plain French asses.

And another…

Chacun Gille

Chacun Gille1

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


  1. Gilles is a stock character in medieval plays, usually a fool or country bumpkin.
  2. While hoeing he uncovers a mole and part of a seed.
  3. Quickly finished, I call to the limping man that
  4. every pitcher has a crack in it. If a philosophy or moral is intended, it is very obscure.
  5. “Is it a Chinese cabbage?” It is to be assumed that he refers to the seed he found.
  6. At any rate he loves a life of pleasure and a carriage.

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.