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General Topics => General Discussion => Topic started by: ALAIN DELASSUS on June 23, 2021, 10:40:04 AM

Title: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on June 23, 2021, 10:40:04 AM
While railway /railroad is my long life passion, it's not the only one anymore because for over 15 years I've been practicing American (?) English everyday and since then this has become my second passion. Joining the WW&F has been a boon for it has made it possible for me to merge my passions. I start up this topic in order to discuss these two languages with you if you're willing to of course. In France, students at large learn actively English for 7 years in highschool but when they leave most of them doesn't go on practicing it unless English is essential for them to follow some university education, which was not the case for me at law school so I've almost forgotten English for 40 years. I know that some people still speack French in Maine and maybe some of you but I wonder if it is still  taught in highschools nowadays. In this topic I wish we could talk about words and colloquial expressions. For example on this forum you mostly use  the word railway and not the American word railroad I wish I knew the reason for and if there is a difference of meaning between them. Something else, in French the word pacesetter when it is related to an economic activity like sightseeing fo example is translated into "locomotive",which way be a bit funny when one speaks about tourist railways ,mind you we often say leader. As regards running a pacesetter or in British English pacemaker is "un lièvre" in French, hare in English, but now we mostly use the word pacer. To finish with, is a bell cow a byword for leader ?
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: John McNamara on June 23, 2021, 10:48:56 AM
I have great admiration for your ability to make jokes and puns in English!
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Keith Taylor on June 23, 2021, 10:50:40 AM
Alain, here in the U.S. most colleges and universities require applicants to have taken at least two years of a foreign language in high school. At the high school I attended in New Jersey they offered French, Italian, German and Spanish.

Keith
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on June 23, 2021, 11:01:57 AM
Thank you so much John. It's a real treat for me when I can make some.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Philip Marshall on June 23, 2021, 11:13:16 AM
To finish with, is a bell cow a byword for leader ?

A more common expression in English is bellwether, which is an old-fashioned term for a ram (male sheep) that's been castrated and made to wear a bell, but it usually refers to leading or indicative trends in society or politics.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on June 23, 2021, 11:39:54 AM
 Keith in France it's  compulsory to study two foreign languages at highschool. After two years you have to pick up a second language. The first language is mostly English or Spanish and for the second one you have a quite  a choice as long as it is taught  in the highschool you attend of course. In the 60's English was the first language and German the second, Spanish was a rarety except in southern France. Now Spanish has displaced German that has become a rarety except maybe in eastern France. German was my second language.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: James Patten on June 23, 2021, 11:48:09 AM
I learned French in high school.  Unfortunately, the French taught is Parisian French, which is totally not helpful when visiting Quebec or Northern Maine (lots of Quebecois french speakers in northern Maine).  Quebecois French is its own version.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on June 23, 2021, 12:14:49 PM
James, Quebecois French is what we call in French " un patois ". In Northern French where I was born they still speak a patois with a broad accent , it sounds like French but  a parisian or someone living in southern France can't  understand it at all. Ten years back a blockbuster movie" Bienvenue chez les Ch'ti" tells the story of a post office manager from southern France that takes his new assignment in a small city in northern France. This patois is called Ch'ti. I can still speak it a little bit. By the way how many years did you learn English at highschool ?
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Benjamin Richards on June 23, 2021, 12:17:41 PM
For example on this forum you mostly use  the word railway and not the American word railroad I wish I knew the reason for and if there is a difference of meaning between them.

It was often the case that as rail transport companies went bankrupt, re-incorporated, etc, they used names ever so slightly different. For example, the WW&F was first known officially as the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railroad Company, from 1901 until 1907. It was reorganized in 1907 to the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Company.

Even more subtle are the iterations of the WW&F's predecessor, the W&Q. From 1876 to 1900 it was known as the Wiscasset & Quebec Railroad Company. In 1900 the word "company" was dropped from the name, leaving just Wiscasset & Quebec Railroad. This entity was not properly dissolved in 1901 with the advent of the WW&F, and this is the same corporate entity that Harry Percival revived in the 1980's.

As to WHY all these variations on a name, I suspect there was a desire to maintain the corporate brand, but perhaps there were legal reasons why the name had to change in the small ways as it did. Someone better versed in corporate law could comment further.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on June 23, 2021, 01:07:13 PM
Benjamin thank you so much for your clarification. I'd noted the fact you've brought up as regards WW&F. A legal reason and finally it was road that was choosen by Washington maybe to stand out from the Queen English like the  spelling of a few words.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: James Patten on June 23, 2021, 02:41:11 PM
I took French for 4 years, can't say that I was great at it.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Philip Marshall on June 23, 2021, 03:02:37 PM
...finally it was road that was choosen by Washington maybe to stand out from the Queen English like the  spelling of a few words.

American English vocabulary and usage has evolved organically rather than by government edict (unlike French), and in some cases we preserve older terms for things that the British no longer use. "Railroad" (sometimes "rail road", two words, in some early company charters) is such a case, and was used as early as the 18th century in England to refer to some early tramways. In time the British settled on "railway" while their American cousins continued to use the older "railroad", and it gradually came to be seen as distinctly American.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Wayne Laepple on June 23, 2021, 04:19:28 PM
I knew a French woman, a teacher of English, who visited Maine some years ago. She was somewhat shocked when she discovered that she could hardly communicate with the Quebecois people she met. She determined they used many archaic idioms and words and phrases from the 17th and 18th centuries that are no longer used in modern-day French.

I would also comment, Alain, that railroading has its own vocabulary, and even its own regional words and phrases. For example, in New England, a device to hold a   rail vehicle in place is called a "trig," while in the mid-Atlantic the same thing is called a "chock." Some railroaders refer to it as a "block," and I've heard some railroaders also call it a "sprag."
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Keith Taylor on June 23, 2021, 04:42:56 PM

I would also comment, Alain, that railroading has its own vocabulary, and even its own regional words and phrases. For example, in New England, a device to hold a   rail vehicle in place is called a "trig," while in the mid-Atlantic the same thing is called a "chock." Some railroaders refer to it as a "block," and I've heard some railroaders also call it a "sprag."
The terms trig and sprag go back to the terms used when securing a horse drawn wagon’s wheels.



Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Philip Marshall on June 23, 2021, 05:20:15 PM
For what it's worth, the Oxford English Dictionary traces "trig" (meaning to wedge in place or make secure) at least as far back as the 16th century and speculates that it may ultimately be derived from Old Norse. "Sprag" is more recent, dating only from the 19th century, and appears to have originally referred to a prop timber in a mine.

(Didn't we already have a discussion about the etymology of "trig" a few years ago? I have a feeling of déjà vu here...)
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Wayne Laepple on June 23, 2021, 05:28:20 PM
I first encountered "sprag" around the anthracite mines here in Pennsylvania. They had piles of wood turnings about 18 inches long, pointed at both ends and about 3 inches in diameter at the middle. They would be thrust into the spokes of mine car wheels to stop them or hold them in place since they had no brakes. I remember seeing workers hanging on the sides of rolling cars jam a sprag into a wheel. The word can either be a noun or a verb. I've also heard it used in a totally different context, to mean to suddenly and forcefully end a discussion, as in "The chairman spragged that conversation before it got out of hand."
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Carl G. Soderstrom on June 24, 2021, 02:46:10 AM
Alain

Like France, and I have heard Germany, people in northern US have trouble understanding
people in southern US , vice versa,- and sometimes in-between. Though television has blurred the line of regionalisms,
accents and dialect.

Not many years ago people from a Swedish university came to Northern Minnesota to study Swedish (& Norwegian)
of 150 years ago because the language did not change here but did in Sweden. When we visited a cousin in Sweden
in 94 he said my father spoke pretty good 70 year old Swedish. Dad learned Swedish that long ago.

Many years ago there was what was called a "Bell Goat" or "Judas Goat". It was trained to lead sheep off railcars at the
slaughter house. Don't think that is what you had in mind.

BTW it took me 3 1/2 years to get through 2 years of Spanish (not sure learn is correct).
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on June 24, 2021, 05:03:37 AM
 Thank you, you all for taking time to give me  a lot of very interesting explanations. Now I know  the origin of the word railroad and the reason why it has become an American word . I read the expression bell cow in a novel by Mary Higgins Clark and it was used to say that a company was the leader in its field and when it does something the other companies in the same field follow suit. Bell wether can be translate into" baromètre" like stock exchange is the barometer of the economy. When I found the word trig in reading the new rulebook I understood what it was for but I could not picture what it looked like untill I asked. In Pithiviers in the old days we used at time a stone  placed  on the top of the rail and against the wheel thread to secure very temporarily a standing car from movement on a rather level track when switching. I've found the word sprag in Reverso dictionnary it means a piece of wood intended to sustain something above, like a cieling, we say "un étai " in French  like a pit timber in coal mines.
In France a rather old small country  likened to the USA everybody can understand eachother. Dialects and languages still exist in some areas like in Corsica, Brittany or Basque Country  nowadays you can learn them at highschool as an optional third language. In France the only difficulty that mostly remains is the accent but I think it's the same thing in every country. Arabic is a language that has hardly never evolved as regards the vocabulary and when two people speak Arabic sometimes you can ove hear a French word like "télévision" or " smart phone". I learned German for 5 years and I must say I was good at it better than at English at any case but when I had been to Vienna  Austria ten years ago I spoke English that almost everyboby speak there; Thank so much again you guys.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Benjamin Richards on June 24, 2021, 07:55:44 AM
To Carl's point: I studied a semester in Germany (Bremen) in 2012. We hired a car-share one particular weekend. When we met the driver, he started in about the details using the local Plattdeutsch dialect, which was met with a bunch of blank stares and "Bitte?" He muttered, "Ugh, Hochdeutsch!" then grudgingly switched over to something a bunch of textbook-trained Americans could understand.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Wayne Laepple on June 24, 2021, 08:42:09 AM
A couple of additional observations concerning language and dialects.

I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the Amish and Old Order Mennonites all speak "Pennsylvania dutch," which is a dialect of German and Swiss with many archaic usages. They speak English as well, though at home the vast majority speak "dutch." My father's people came from southern Germany, and their dialect was known as schwabendeutsch.  Classes in Pennsylvania dutch, for kids and adults, are offered in area public schools.

Some years back I visited the southwestern US, and I spect a couple of days in Chama, New Mexico. Hanging around the Cumbres & Toltec yard in the evening, one heard the locomotive hostlers chattering in Spanish, but some English words, like injector, lubricator and smokebox were heard as well. I was told that the Spanish they spoke was from the 16th century, when their ancestors first settled in the area, before the pilgrims made it to Massachusetts!
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Jeff Schumaker on June 24, 2021, 08:54:54 AM
Dialects can sometimes be a problem, here in the US. I witnessed an example at the museum a few years back. One member, a local, use the term "scahchen" (my spelling). Another local member didn't understand him, so he repeated it. After continued confusion, the first fellow dropped his accent and said "scorching". He was talking about the hot day.

Jeff S.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on June 24, 2021, 11:24:44 AM
Yes accent is always a  real problem when  a language is not your mother tongue. When I went on a tour of  New Zeeland it had been a tall order to understand not only the people we met downunder but  also the guides that came  with us for three weeks and who did not speak a single French word. Every now and again people from the UK pay a visit to Pithiviers and there again it's not that easy because they speak very fast. I acknowledge it's hard to speak  slowly for long and to top it all off the Scottish or Midland accent does not help matters. In France people have mostly accent in the North a broad one and in the South a singing one and a slight drawling Swiss  accent in the  Northern Alps. Elsewhere they generally speak what James Patten has called the Parisian French with very little accent, at least it's what it seems to me  as a French native speaker. Those that have been in France what is your take on that ?
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Mike the Choochoo Nix on June 27, 2021, 09:19:32 AM
About ten years ago we were driving through Quebec Canada on our way to Maine, we stopped at a tourist information center to get some information about the roads. The two young ladies there spoke very broken English but the young man spoke very good English. I asked him if he grew up speaking English and he said no, he spoke French growing up like everyone else that lived there but he watched a lot of American television !
M. Nix
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Carl G. Soderstrom on June 28, 2021, 01:12:29 AM
Few stories

Many years ago my parents were on a bus tour in Denmark - one couple from Brazil & one couple from Argentina
had to speak English to understand each other. (Portuguese & Spanish - though probably not the same as the "old Country")

An attendant in a Norwegian train station spoke perfect english - with a London accent. (not BBC accent)

Another Norwegian in a shop in Stavanger spoke English with a Texas accent because he worked on North Sea drill rigs.

While parting and waiting to board a train (in Sweden) my cousin turned to help a young lady with a carriage - he spoke
to her in English because he had been talking to us (in English)- she replied in English. 2 Swedes speaking English in Sweden.
I thought that was humorous.  ;D
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Bill Baskerville on June 28, 2021, 10:18:31 AM
Carl, Alain,
Most of us who have traveled have had these encounters.  When I was living in Saigon (before it became Ho Chi Min City) I was friends with a couple, he from France, she from Brazil, who, between them spoke 5 languages. 

While having dinner one evening in France I overheard the couple next to us talking with their children.  He was French and spoke in French to the two children, she was German and spoke in German to the kids.  The kids always responded in the appropriate language.  I made some casual remark to my wife Randy and overheard the mother say to her children, "See, they do say that!"  I later found out the mother learned English from her mother who taught English.  The mother said they had "English days" with their kids and there was some idiom or slang that I inadvertently used that the kids had questioned if it was really common in America.

I have friends who are Danish and their kids respond in the language in which they are addressed, Danish, English, German or French. 

The same is true with aircraft controllers in France who when called by a pilot will respond in French or English depending on the language the pilot uses.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: john d Stone on June 28, 2021, 01:17:37 PM
We've hosted four exchange students over the years. The first was a girl from a small town in the north of Germany, just west of the former east-west border. She had taken English since grade school but actually had a very limited grasp of the language. I'd taken two years of German in high school, most of which I slept through. My wife's Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry was only good for a few phrases, mostly dealing with odd types of food. But after a couple of weeks of American TV she was able to speak and understand quite well. I asked her how similar German was to Austrian. She said "It is close. They can understand us but we can not understand them." Same response for Dutch!
The following year we had another German girl and a girl from Taiwan living with us, both with decent English skills. When the Taiwanese girls parents came to visit, she would speak to them in Mandarin and immediately switch to English to talk to us. My brain ain't wired like that!

In the world of railroading, I grew up around Pennsylvania Road and PRSL people in South Jersey. My railroad career has been out of Richmond Virginia on the Southern and then RF&P/CSX. Hand signals were pretty much the same as I'd experienced growing up though a few terms were different and track hand signals seem to be kind of a local language. When I started visiting the WW&F, "trig" was a term I had to get used to. I had been exposed to car counts by hand when the RF&P hired a former Rock Island brakeman, but that was not our normal practice. We just waved 'em back or ahead to start the move and resumed signaling as we closed in on the joint, decreasing the speed of the hand signal and then steadying up with the lantern or hand held high prior to waving down for the stop.

I came across this safety video from the Great Northern and found out that hand signals were not necessarily the same, even on a basic level, from coast to coast!  https://youtu.be/BqpayZ2JqlU
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on June 30, 2021, 05:16:55 AM
An other travel short story
Ten years back on the  night train from Paris  to Rome my wife and I met two couples, our age, from Laredo Texas. I started speaking English and  I translated our talk into French for  Claude. At one point they said they spoke Spanish as well and then my wife that learned it as a second language at highschool started to talk with them in Spanish. As the talk went on in Spanish between the five of them a Texan woman kindly translated what the others was saying into English for me as I could not understand. Maybe I'm mistaken but I guess if you can speak English Spanish and French you can make yourself understand almost everywhere. Claude always learns a few words of the language of the country we go like hello, good bye, sorry, please, thank you and such like  and we have always noticed that people appreciate a lot you've made the effort to learn a few words of their native language.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on July 01, 2021, 06:35:55 AM
 Believe it or not in French a rail comprises 3 parts un champignon= mushroom, une âme= soul and un patin= skate that match the English words railhead, web and base. In French the word champignon is a familiar by-word for gas pedal because the gas pedal in cars was not as large as the others and  looked like a mushroom that had sprouted out of the floor of the car. When people were in a rush and speeding we said  they were stepping on or squashing the mushroom. But the word and the colloquial expression are downright outdated.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Carl G. Soderstrom on July 02, 2021, 03:36:30 AM
Alain

It is a shame some many expressions get dis-used or pass into history.
It is what makes conversation interesting - besides it makes the younger generation
wonder what we are talking about. Turn-about is fair play.  :D
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Benjamin Richards on July 02, 2021, 09:43:05 AM
At the same time, new expressions and idioms are being invented all the time, which make the older generation wonder what we're talking about. ;D It's the nature of language to change and evolve. After all, language is primarily a medium for transferring ideas.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on July 05, 2021, 12:07:01 PM
Carl, Benjamin. Language and especially vocabulary keeps on changing and evolving; each generation creates its proper words and expressions let alone slang. On fb when I comment and reply  to my AMTP's friends that there are mostly under 40 I often use old words and colloquial expressions my parents used  when I was a youngster just for the fun.  Do you still say or use the verb to dig meaning to look at or to like something or understand and the expression down the road a piece or to flee the coop in French "prendre la clé des champs" or the adverb doggone all terms I heard when listening to rock'n roll in the sixties. BTW what does the expression" to rock the house" mean ? is it a byword for "to make it big"  meaning a big success.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: James Patten on July 05, 2021, 03:12:05 PM
"Rock the house" sort of refers to a party with loud music, or other loud, boisterous gathering. 
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Keith Taylor on July 05, 2021, 03:34:41 PM
"Rock the house" sort of refers to a party with loud music, or other loud, boisterous gathering.
Originally it referred to a boisterous crowd at a venue like a theater.

Keith
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on July 07, 2021, 11:11:51 AM
Thank you James and Keith. In French we have two colloquial expressions that mean to be tremendously successful The first one is "casser la baraque" pretty much like to bring the house down and the second one is "faire un malheur" meaning word for word to cause a tragedy pretty much like in English to make a killing or to make a great or smashed hit.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on August 23, 2021, 07:07:16 AM
Something funny French people pronounce Wi-Fi like the adjective whiffy.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Jeff Schumaker on August 23, 2021, 10:51:29 AM
Alain,

I wouldn't be surprised if some Americans do as well.

Jeff S.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Graham Buxton on August 23, 2021, 11:06:51 AM
There are times that I pronounce it as Aaarrrrggh!  ::) ;)
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on August 23, 2021, 12:55:13 PM
Finally  if i'm not mistaken as Wi-Fi means wired fidelity it should be pronounced like why- fi or maybe like Graham does.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: Benjamin Richards on August 23, 2021, 03:18:46 PM
You would think it means that, but that's a case of folk etymology. It never officially stood for anything, being made up by a marketing firm, but some suspect it was derived from the then-commonplace abbreviation "Hi-Fi" which indeed did stand for "High Fidelity", in reference to audio equipment. In that respect, one would expect pronunciation to be "High-Figh" and that is what I hear most often in the US.

Some folks I know pronounce it "wee-fee" but only in a facetious sense.

French speakers (and many other Europeans for that matter!) could certainly be forgiven for rendering Wi-Fi as "wee-fee" or "whiffy"; it's got one vowel, must be a monophthong! English does love to wrap diphthongs in single-glyph packages.
Title: Re: English vs French. Languages words colloquial expressions and such like
Post by: ALAIN DELASSUS on August 25, 2021, 07:40:51 AM
 Thank you Benjamin for your explanation.The fact remains that the pronunciation of English words is more tricky for a French native speaker than the German words. I learned both at highschool. As regards French I dont know of course if it is a difficult language to pronounce. Anyway those who speak a foreign language keep more or less the accent of their mother tongue. Funnily enough the words I found very hard to pronounce properly in English are those that evolve from Latin and French and God knows there are many of them in my dictionnary especially in the medical vocabulary that may unfortunately be useful when you travel.