Un mot by any other nom

Living in a bilingual household, and I’m the least bilingual of the five, I am daily exposed to two vocabs, English and French. Maybe it’s my anglophone outsider’s perspective, but certain French words make things sound much nicer than they have a right to be.

Take the word for garbage: la poubelle. I won’t poo-poo about pou. It’s perfectly in character. It’s belle (or beautiful) that opposes the notion of that fly-catching bin at the end of your driveway. Like rubbish wearing ballet slippers.

Or la mouffette. Can you think of a more unlikely word for skunk? More like an endearment from Pepé Lepew (“Ah, ma petite mouffette…”) than the critter stinking up your backyard shed. Being sprayed by a mouffette makes me think of being dusted with baby powder.

One of my favorites is pneu for tire. It’s more fun to say than you’d think because the “p” here isn’t silent, unlike English (think pneumatic and pneumonia). In French, pneu is a small, delicate, front-of-the-mouth word. Far less chewy and, well, rubbery than tire – especially in the polysyllabic way some English-speakers say it: tie-yer.

This got me thinking. What English words have the same effect?

My francophone husband suggests dysentery. Typographically, it might do, with all those Ys. As a spoken word, I’m not convinced.

Then I recall the name our eldest daughter suggested for her new sister: Saliva. In her defense, if you were six, it might sound pretty, too. Or how about sweetbreads, which is what a pancreas becomes when you fry it up for an English breakfast?

Other suggestions? Email me.