Plus ça change . . . * Posted by Tim Hildreth on Nov 22, 2016 in Vocabulary
Nostalgia, like jet-lag, is a modern phenomenon. Just like you can’t have jet-lag without jets – If you can’t change time zones faster than your body can adapt, you can’t lose sleep over it! – you can’t have nostalgia unless the present is significantly different from the past. And in today’s world – when so much change is happening so fast – even little changes can trigger major nostalgia.
It’s no secret that I love France. But I also love England. That’s why one of my all-time favorite shops during my time in Paris was the Marks & Spencer on the Boulevard Haussmann, just across the street from the Galeries Lafayette. Why? you ask, would someone in the middle of all things French, go to a British department store? Easy . . . chips and Christmas. Now don’t get me wrong, the French know how to do both just fine (more on Christmas next month!), but for sheer variety of flavors (I’m a flavored-chip guy!) no one beats the Brits. And for a guy raised in New England on old fashioned Christmas’s and Dickens, it’s hard to find better at the holidays than the English . . . and if I couldn’t get home for Christmas, at least I could rely on Marks & Spencer to indulge my Dickens fantasies. C’est donc avec beaucoup de regrets que j’ai lu récemment que (That’s why I was so sorry to read recently that) Marks & Spencer was planning to close their stores in the French capital!
Speaking of nostalgia and regrets, I got to thinking this week about the difference between the French words regrets and remords. Similar to their English counterparts, regrets and remorse, both words convey a sense of sadness about something that happened in the past. One however is much more specific . . . and serious . . . than the other. D’avoir des regrets (or de regretter quelque chose) simply means to regret it, or to be sorry about but without any judgement or guilt. Avoir des remords on the other hand implies regret for something that you feel bad or guilty about. Si tu as des regrets about something, you’re sad about it, you might even feel a bit sorry, but there is no implication that you did anything wrong. Si tu as des remords on the other hand, you probably feel at least some guilt and maybe even a little shame.
Another difference between the two words (mirrored in English): remords (remorse) is a feeling; regrets (regrets) are also feelings, but they can also be expressed with a verb – regretter / to regret.
Finally, I hope you enjoyed our trip to Amqui last week. It got me thinking about why they speak French in Québec. I know the region was originally settled by immigrants from France, but with all the history in between, how is it exactly that this one province in an otherwise English speaking country has maintained a separate language. It turns out, it was a gift from le roi d’Angleterre1England of course has a queen today. La reine Elizabeth II (Queen Elizabeth II). (the King of England) of all people! In 1774, King George III – in an attempt to win the locals over to his side against the rebellious American colonists – enacted the Quebec Act through the British Parliament, re-instituting the use of French in the province and guaranteeing protection for the Catholic population. So for once I’ll say Vive le roi!2Long live the king! The expression comes from a longer phrase – Le roi est mort. Vive le roi! / The king is dead. Long live the king! – which accompanied the transition from one monarch to the next and signified the continuity from the old king to his heir, the new king. Interestingly, while we usually think of the new king as the son of the old, that isn’t always (or even often!) the case. Louis XIV lived so long, all his sons and grandsons died first and his heir – the future Louis XV – was his great grandson!
* The common English expression “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” was originally French! French journalist and writer Alphonse Karr (1808 – 1890) coined the original – “Plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose.” – in his satirical revue Les Guepes (The Wasps).
- 1England of course has a queen today. La reine Elizabeth II (Queen Elizabeth II)
- 2Long live the king! The expression comes from a longer phrase – Le roi est mort. Vive le roi! / The king is dead. Long live the king! – which accompanied the transition from one monarch to the next and signified the continuity from the old king to his heir, the new king. Interestingly, while we usually think of the new king as the son of the old, that isn’t always (or even often!) the case. Louis XIV lived so long, all his sons and grandsons died first and his heir – the future Louis XV – was his great grandson!
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