March 18, 2011 | French

The Most Romantic Romance Language Is…

...not French, in my opinion.

It was an unseasonably warm day today (low sixties). Everywhere I went I crossed paths with St. Patrick’s Day celebrants.

Green People Near Macy's

Green People Near Macy’s

A lot of people in New York (and elsewhere) hate St. Patrick’s Day, I guess because some other people get very drunk. I myself have never had any problems with St. Patrick’s Day.

I never even know it is happening until I encounter a bunch of people in green, as I did today, and my experience of it has generally been a purely chromatic one.

Back to language. Something I have been considering: in my opinion, the most romantic Romance language is not French. Too much phlegm.

Starting with maximum romance and going in descending order, my romantic-language list is as follows:

  1. Italian
  2. Spanish
  3. French

Having had no meaningful experience with Portuguese (yet), I can’t comment on where it would fall, but based on the contact I have had to date, I think it is likely it will round out my personal list at number 4. Don’t get me wrong: I find them all romantic. I’m just saying Italian wins. Je suis désolée.

My Pimsleur lessons have been pushing the word sympa on me. It is a shortened form of sympathique (nice), and I have never, ever come across it before. I gather this is an example of what is known as “apocope,” where stuff gets lopped off the end of a word.

Sympa (pronounced roughly sampa) appears to be a cool and casual way of saying “nice” in French. (If this is wrong, I hope someone will alert me.) It does not seem to fit well with my tradition of formal college French.

Is there an age limit for using sympa? I feel kind of ridiculous saying it.

I read today that “ballot” in French is le scrutin. Is that what they actually call the thing you stick in the box? (In the olden days anyway.) 

Le scrutin is funny. It sounds like “scrutiny” and brought to mind the year of the hanging chads.

Comments (5)

Manon • Posted on Thu, March 24, 2011 - 10:30 am EST

The thing you “stick in the box” is called “bulletin de vote”. “Scrutin” is used to talk about the whole voting process. The confusion probably comes from the fact that, in English, you use “ballot” for both of these things?

Concerning the word “sympa”, I unfortunately can’t help you. We don’t say that in Quebec. You need to ask someone from France about the “age limit”(!) for using the word. You were nevertheless right about the fact that it is a colloquial expression. That’s probably why it doesn’t seem to be fitting with what you’ve learned before.

Katherine • Posted on Thu, March 24, 2011 - 1:45 pm EST

I asked my French friend about this. She is a teacher in France and prides herself on her grammatically correct speech.  She said that ‘sympa’ is for all ages, her Mother who is in her 50’s and is a well educated speech pathologist would say ‘sympa’. To say ‘sympatique’ on the other hand is very old fashioned and only the very old would use it (I guess like using ‘swell’ for good).

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, March 24, 2011 - 2:09 pm EST

Oh-oh. I guess I’d better knock it off with “sympathique” then. Merci beaucoup.

Katherine • Posted on Thu, March 24, 2011 - 2:42 pm EST

Yes I am really glad you posted that question!  I had no idea!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, March 24, 2011 - 2:56 pm EST

Manon, thank you for the information on “ballot”! I had a hard time getting clarification on that point when I searched online.

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