huile de coude


Near the town of Roaix (Vaucluse) poppies mix-n-mingle with valerian (a French cat fave).

In books: The story of John Hu, a lowly but devout Chinese Catholic who in 1722 accompanied a Jesuit missionary on a journey to France -- one that ended with Hu's confinement in a lunatic asylum. At once a triumph of historical detective work and a gripping narrative, The Question of Hu deftly probes the collision of two cultures, with their different definitions of faith, madness, and moral obligation.

sein (sehn [silent (nasal)] "n") noun, masculine

  : breast, bosom; (figurative meaning: midst, center, heart, gulf)

Quote and Pronunciation (hear my daughter, Jackie, read these French words): Download sein.mp3. Download sein.wav

Garde au sein du malheur l'espérance et la foi : Tout pauvre peut trouver un plus pauvre que soi. Keep, in the midst of misfortune, hope and faith: one can always find another who is less fortunate than oneself.
--Juan Manuel


On a Saturday morning drive, the kids and I speed past fields of poppies, canals choked with irises, and little roadside perennials, including hollyhocks (the French, I've just discovered, call them "rose trémières"). Now if only I could name the other flowers carpeting the colorful countryside at this time of year....

For this reason, I am on my way to the botanical exposition in the town of Malaucène.* If my children are with me, that's because I have bribed them with cash and not because they are fascinated by the common name for "valériane"* ("lily of Spain" a.k.a "herbe aux chats"*-- something I just found out
myself last week).

When we arrive at Vaison-la-Romaine, and still haven't seen a sign for Malaucène, I grow concerned. "But where is Malaucène?" I question. "Why haven't we seen a sign yet?"

From the back of the car I hear snickering.
"Hey guys. Keep it down!... and keep your eyes peeled for a sign that reads Malaucène!"

(More snickering from the back seat...).

I recognize these snickers: "pronunciation snickers" they are. The sound of Malaucène--as pronounced by a lazy learner of French--has my Francophone children in stitches again.

"Mal-oh-seNNNNN" Max says, correcting my pronunciation. "And not 'mal-oh-SEH(N)'!"

"Sen" and "seh(n)": the one might be suitable pronunciation for a river running through Paris, but the other one, uttered, utterly means "bosom"!

Come-to-think of it, the name "Malaucène" did seem a bit odd... especially when breaking the word down into individual components: mal au cène (sehn?). Then again, that a town might be called "Ache-In-The-Breast" didn't surprise me too much. After all, the French aren't prudes when it comes to naming places (case in point: the French town of "Condom"*... and never mind that Condom doesn't mean condom* in English, the town's name still causes tourists to blush and/or snicker, like those kids in the back of my car...).

A kilometer later, when I still haven't seen any signs to Malaucène, I see a flickering green cross: a pharmacy. "I'm going to pull over and ask for directions to "Malaucène," I explain to the kids.

My son and my daughter exchange amused looks. That's when Max finally offers some direction: "Mom," he suggests. "Just don't ask the pharmacist where 'Boob Ache' is located."

Malaucène = town in the Vaucluse; la valériane (f) = valerian (valeriana officinalis, Valerianaceae) a.k.a. "St. George's herb"; l'herbe (f) aux chats = cat mint herb (for its effect, similar to catnip, on cats); Condom = town in the Gers region of France; condom = the French word for condom is "un préservatif"; boob ache = (the French term "mal au sein"--here, the faulty pronunciation for the village "Malaucène"--translates to "pain in the breast"
With the Help of Our Friends from France: Stabilizing and Living with Advanced Breast Cancer. Upon learning that her breast cancer had spread to her liver, Carol Silverander was given a three percent chance of beating the disease, and was told she would probably live for just two years. This is the story of how she came to think about cancer in a different way, and discovered an innovative form of treatment that had been pioneered by two remarkable physicians in France. 

Read about how my mom coped with her cancer, while being treated in France, in my book "Words in a French Life"

"The Botanist and the Vintner". In the mid-1860s, grapevines in southeastern France inexplicably began to wither and die. Jules-Émile Planchon, a botanist from Montpellier, was sent out to investigate. Read more, here

Terms & Expressions:
  donner le sein à un enfant = to breast-feed a baby
  le cancer du sein = breast cancer
  aller seins nus = to go topless
  au sein de = in the middle of
  au sein du Père = in the bosom of the Father
  au sein du luxe = in the lap of luxury
  le sein de la terre = the bowels of the earth


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Fallot Dijon Herbed Mustards - Set of 4 French Mustards

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation.

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