In America, They’re Called Freedom Cramps

I’ve had a longstanding theory that you can kind of tell what a person’s first language just by looking at them, on an axis largely unrelated to ethnicity; the exercise of different spoken languages put different strains on a person’s developing musculature and skeletal structure, my theory goes, and those strains are formative over the years, clearly visible to the astute observer.

By using words like “skeletal” and “musculature”, you’ll note, my theory sounds much more scientific than the closely-related “if you keep making that face, it’ll freeze like that”, but in a sense that is also true; you can see the laugh-lines around the eyes of people who’ve spent a lot of time smiling, and the downturned wrinkles that crease the faces of people who’ve spent most of their lives with a disapproving, indignant scowl, and hint at the grotesque. Who is to say, then, that I am wrong?

Also, when I guess right, it reinforces my belief that I am an astute observer. In that respect, at least, it’s quite a useful theory. Other astute observers will realize that the entire second paragraph in this entry is just a bunch of handwaving that doesn’t add any compelling logic but somehow makes the whole claim smell better. But that sort of thing is what makes astute observers dangerous.

I’m an astute observer, and that’s what makes me dangerous, baby.

The reason I bring this up at all is that I am teaching a course in French these days, and it’s starting to give me face cramps. Quebecois French is apparently some hell of a strain on my facial apparatus.

Depending on which sweeping generalization you’re most familiar with, the French are supposed to be either great lovers, terrifically rude, or a people who’ve long known politics to be a bloodsport, and right now I can totally get behind any one of those. The way my face feels, I’m thinking the French must be the Shaolin Monks of facial dexterity, that they’ve been in cruel and rigorous training for those engagements since they were small children.

Ouch, basically.


  1. Posted October 26, 2006 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    You know, you might be teaching Quebecois french, but I bet you’ve never heard french from Pointe Gatineau (a suburb of Hull/Gatineau). Let me quote what I overheard:

    M’a aller prendre une duck.

    Now hands up if you guessed that that means “I’m going to go take a shower.”
    As you may tell by my name, french is my first language, and I quite remember that you didn’t know I spoke french before you knew my name. Good theory though.

  2. Mike Hoye
    Posted October 27, 2006 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    In truth, I’m use to the genteel Franco-Ontarian version of the Quebecois. The bizzare Hull Patois is an entirely different ballgame, one that I am not sufficiently rock-shirted, camaroed or mulleted to fully appreciate.