French (near) homonyms – "calembours pourris"

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[h/t Stephan Hurtubise]

Update — more here:

[h/t François Lang]


  1. YH said,

    May 3, 2020 @ 4:09 am

    Just to say, as a native French speaker, the last is the best for it is and grammatically correct and meaningful, the first is grammatical even if a bit surrealistic. The others fail the grammatical test.

    Does that make a point against a purely phonetical transcription of French spoken language instead of a more ellaborate spelling?

    As a tongue twister : si six scies scient six saucisses, six-cent-six scies scient six-cent-six saucisses.

    And last (#where do you cut it?):
    Dans les bois [volétunèstèl].
    ??volait une estelle??
    OK: vos laitues naissent-elles ?

  2. Gabriel Holbrow said,

    May 3, 2020 @ 10:44 am

    This guy's reliance on Google Translate and his mugging for the camera are perfect. They make the video a joy.

    Among languages I have been exposed to, I know of two styles of tongue twisters. One switches among similar but different phonemes and is physically a challenge to pronounce (like "She sells sea shells by the seashore"). The other style sets up a repetition of the same phoneme sequence so that it is mentally a challenge to keep track of your place in the phrase (like "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo").

    This video suggests that French has great potential for the "Buffalo buffalo" style of tongue twister. For any of you familiar with French and French word play, are "Buffalo buffalo" style tongue twisters more prevalent that "She sells seashells" style tongue twisters in French?

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    May 3, 2020 @ 11:12 am

    I confess that I cannot see the challenge in "Buffalo buffalo", but as a child (and probably to this day), I found "Red leather, yellow leather" almost impossible to repeat more than a very few times in succession.

  4. Rodger C said,

    May 3, 2020 @ 11:51 am

    Is there an English tongue-twister simpler than "Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat …"?

  5. Terpomo said,

    May 3, 2020 @ 4:50 pm

    Another amazing one is "unique New York." Just try to say that ten times fast!

  6. rosie said,

    May 4, 2020 @ 12:55 am

    A director of an amateur choir I was once in used to make us sing "unique New York" in warm-up exercises.

    My contribution to the tongue-twister genre: Is she as sure as she says she is?

  7. Keith said,

    May 4, 2020 @ 4:59 am

    Another well-known tongue twister, relying on repeated sounds is:

    Si mon tonton tond ton tonton, ton tonton sera tondu.

    (If my uncle shaves your uncle, your uncle will be shaven)

    Here's one that relies on homophones:

    Vincent mit l'âne dans un champ, s'en vint dans l'autre. Combien de têtes, de pattes et de queues ?

    The first part sounds like "2000000 (20 cent mille) ânes dans le champ, 120 dans l'autre".

    One of my favourites in English has always been:

    I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's son, and I'm busy plucking pheasants till the pheasant plucking's done.


  8. Philip Taylor said,

    May 4, 2020 @ 5:11 am

    The variant of your last , Keith, with which I am more familiar, is I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant-plucker's son; so I won't be plucking pheasants 'till the pheasant plucker comes. There is an even coarser one : Old mother Ruddy Fuddy had a rough-cut punt | not a punt cut rough, but a rough-cut punt | Round in the middle, and square at the front | was old mother Ruddy Fuddy's rough-cut punt.

  9. Tom Dawkes said,

    May 5, 2020 @ 7:18 am

    A French limerick I came across years ago has a splendid last line:
    Un vieux duc (le meilleur des époux)
    Demandait (en lui tâtant le pouls)
    ⁠À sa vieille duchesse
    ⁠(Qu'un vieux catarrhe oppresse):—
    "Et ton thé, t'a-t-il ôté ta toux?"

    I now see it is one of a string of limericks in A Legend of Camelot, Pictures and Poems, etc. George du Maurier, 1898. at

  10. Andrew Usher said,

    May 5, 2020 @ 6:45 pm

    Unfortunately that line had to have one consonant other than 't', though I guess you could say it's the same place of articulation …

    I've alluded before to my instinctive understanding of poetic meter. Though I don't speak French, I read that limerick in my head immediately, and from my familiarity with the limerick meter, without conscious thought gave 'vieille' two syllables (non-standard) – as is entirely analogous to what I can do with poetry in English.

    k_over_hbarc at

  11. Samuel Buggeln said,

    May 6, 2020 @ 10:53 am

    This is a great demonstration of my own hobby-horse— that French rhyming-couplet plays (Molière, Corneille, Racine etc) should never be translated into rhyming couplets in English. So many words sound alike in French that rhyming is easy (and in fact entire homonymic sentences exist)— where in English, full of extreme and various sounds, finding that much rhyme forces the language to strange places.

  12. Rodger C said,

    May 7, 2020 @ 7:06 am

    @Samuel Buggeln: True, though having taught Richard Wilbur's Tartuffe (and once participated in a staging of it), I thought he did a preternaturally smooth job of it. What drives me crazy is people who try to translate Dante's terza rima in a corresponding meter. This is, I think, a main reason why anthologies constantly fidget among different Dante translations, all of them unsatisfactory in one way or another.

  13. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    May 7, 2020 @ 9:13 pm

    This seems like a good time for Rhabarberbarbara!

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