The Grammarphobia Blog

An oeuf is an oeuf: Are you myth informed?

(The Grammarphobia Blog is featuring five daily quizzes this week to mark the publication of Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language. This quiz is about fractured French.)

(1) Is a nom de plume a pen name in France?

(2) Why don’t Frenchwomen wear brassières?

(3) Is “niche” pronounced NITCH or NEESH in English?

(4) What do the French shout when they want Sam to play it again?

(5) Are négligées worn in Parisian boudoirs?

Answers:

(1) No, nom de plume is not a French expression. The British made it up in the 19th century. The French for an assumed name is nom de guerre or pseudonyme.

(2) The French term for what an English speaker calls a brassiere is soutien-gorge. In Paris, a brassière is usually a baby’s undershirt.

(3) NITCH is the traditional English pronunciation, but the Frenchified NEESH has been gaining in popularity, and dictionaries now accept both of them.

(4) The French shout Bis! or Une Autre! or Un Rappel! English speakers have shouted “Encore!” since the early 17th century, perhaps in an attempt to sound French.

(5) No, the French don’t call that frilly nightie a négligée. A Frenchwoman might wear a robe de chambre, a peignoir, or a chemise de nuit. The French verb négliger means to neglect, and a négligé is someone who’s careless or sloppy or poorly dressed.

For more on these and other myths about English, check out Origins of the Specious at your local bookstore, Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.