la contrepèterie

by jemma margaret

Since we’re nearing the lusty month of May, (or try this for a much more suggestive version), I thought I’d trot out some mildly naughty bits of la langue française.

Une contrepèterie is best translated as a spoonerism, (thank you dear William Archibald Spooner), but with a French twist in that it is usually une peu obscène.

Now, before you start to worry about where this is heading, let me assure you that the contrepèteries I’ve heard are obscene in a nineteenth century sort of way, as in let’s measure the buttocks of the Hottentot Venus from a distant using a secant and some trigonometry (back when mathematics was useful!).

The most famous of these slips of the tongue is dated back to the 16th century and one François Rabelais.

A not uncommon, femme folle à la messe (crazy woman at mass), quite easily becomes a femme molle, à la fesse (woman with a soft bottom). Shocking, non?

Actually, that is very much the mildest. People in the 16th century were very very rude. You do not want to know what happens to all the young girls who doubt their faith (Toutes les jeunes filles doutent de leur foy). And, hèlas!, neither Balzac nor Hugo were immune to this sort of wordplay.

It’s a much easier thing to do in French than in English what with all the billions of unpronounced letters popping up here and there. The most titter worthy one I could find was, “Three cheers for our queer old dean!” If you have a lot of time on your hands, and a decent internet connection, I hear there are some good ones here.

A well-made contrepèterie is a low form of high art. But don’t take it all too seriously, rather prenons la chose en riant (take the thing laughing).

Or, if you prefer, prenons la rose en chiant…but you’ll have to look that one up for yourself.

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