Language on the Moove

The translation for a cow is une vache. You’ll hardly ever hear this vocab word integrated into daily conversation; I mean how often would people talk about cows afterall. Or at least that’s what I thought before moving here. So much for book learnin’.

Of all the useful things the cow gives us in France (milk/cheese/filet mignon/sexy Louis Vuitton leather), one of its surprising contributions is to the everyday language. Only after many jumbled, blurred frenzies of rapid French between Charlotte’s friends did I start to make out the word vachement in every 3rd sentence. Turns out it’s a way to ultra-emphasize something. For example, to say “it’s good” in increasing levels: c’est bon, c’est très bon, c’est super bon, c’est vachement bon!” In French the ending ”ment” is equal to our “ly” (quickly = rapidement, quietly = tranquillement). So in a literal sense you’re saying that something’s cow-ly good. So far in my limited experience with the language, I’ve yet to come across any level of descriptive greatness higher than cow level. Is it in India where cows are sacred beings? Maybe the French are kinda similar, diverging only at the small detail of the French slaughtering and chowing down on beef whenever they get a chance. But besides that…yeah pretty similar maybe.

Speaking of holy cows, they come into play during another common expression here: Oh, la vache! This one is used to express any type of surprise, like La vache, this renaissance-inspired opera house is exquisite! Or La vache, you are one pretentious bastard! To me this saying bears a striking resemblance to the English “holy cow!” Somewhere in the vast linguistic history of mankind there must be a fascinating connection there somehow. Probably also on Wikipedia.

Une vacherie is another common word, translated as a mean trick or a nasty comment. Here the cow’s simply getting no respect.

So of course one day I just had to ask Charlotte: why so much cow? Why when the car seats are hot from a day in the sun do you scream in French: Ahhh! The cow!!?

To which she replied by giving the familiar I-love-you-honey-and-you’re-cute-but-don’t-be-such-a-simple-literal-dope look. Turns out the French never say any of these words or expressions with a thought of a cow in their mind. Each is just a word to them like any other, with no bovine ties. After my reaction of confusion and disappointment (I was getting comfortable with the humorous cows flying everywhere) she made a good point to clarify. In English, she said, we say stuff like “I’m screwed” without visualizing an actual screw. Good point. And yes my cuteness more than outweighs the dopeyness, thank you very much.

Regardless, vache is here to stay in all its forms, and it’s up to me to decipher when someone’s talking farm animals or when they’re simply happy/surprised. No biggie—just another cow patty in the tricky mine field that is the French language.

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