April 28, 2012 | Review Period
Food Teaches You Vocabulary
People tend to remember the names of things they like to eat.
When I look at a list of animal vocabulary in French, or Italian, the words I tend to remember and recognize the best are often animals likely to be found on menus.
I Need to Regrow Some Vocabulary
Like chèvre, which means “goat” in French. This is a word I hardly ever use in any language. In Manhattan there are not many goats, though I have been told that about 100 years ago the roof of my apartment building supported a farm with goats as well as chickens and other animals.
In today’s largely farm-free, goat-free modern Manhattan, there remains nonetheless a great deal of goat cheese. I see it on menus all the time. So chèvre is very familiar. So is agneau. Definitely more familiar, anyway, than a chameau (camel) or an ours (bear). Which do not end up on local menus.
The French grammar is coming back fast. I went through a lot of it rather thoroughly last year, and besides, that was only a year ago. My passive vocabulary remains pretty substantial, but the active has shrunk considerably, so I am working on that.
More comparative word lists: Yesterday = gestern (German), ayer (Spanish), ieri (Italian), hier (French). I read that “yesterday” in English dates back to before 950 A.D., from Old English geostran dæg.
In that expression one can see a strong resemblance to the modern German gestern and Dutch gisteren (both meaning “yesterday”). In addition, dæg looks like the modern German and Dutch words for “day” (Tag and dag, respectively).
I do like my French book reasonably well (Complete French Grammar, by Annie Heminway), but the vocabulary strikes me as a little advanced at times. On a word list on page 115, I was told how to say “to caramelize” (caraméliser), “to grind” (broyer), “to braise” (braiser), “to scale fish” (écailler), and so on. This is taking the food theme a little too far too fast, I think.
The same word, hôte, can be both “guest” and “host” in French. I just did a quick online search to try to figure out why that is; I’ve wondered this before. The reason was not immediately apparent to me, though whatever it is, it appears to be many centuries old. In my mind, being a good guest and being a good host are two quite different roles, but this fact remains: they have many skills in common.