An exhausting surprise at Jackie’s Alpine “hébergement”
Faire le Sapin, "la flemme" and The Spirit of the Season

Une saccade + Tic Talk: Let's talk about tics (did you know "Tourettes" is named after a Frenchman?)

Mediterranean port of La Ciotat south of France
Our bustling port here in La Ciotat. Today we're talking about a word we share with the French. A tic is "a frequent usually unconscious quirk of behavior or speech" (Merriam-Webster). Read my story and then share your own experiences in the comments. Merci!

TODAY’S WORD: une saccade 

: jerk, twitch (movement)

saccader (verb): to tremble, shake, jerk

A saccade is also a rapid movement of the eye between fixation points.

Audio/Listening: Click the link below to hear the French words in the following story. Then scroll down to the vocabulary list to check your French comprehension.

Click here to begin listening

by Kristi Espinasse

Have you read about a certain eye exercise that improves vision?
Bref, all you do is look left, right, up, down, rouler les yeux, then repeat. Do these ocular rotations several times a day and eyesight will supposedly improve. 

But if that were true I would have 20/20 vision by now—without even trying! Because for years I’ve done the left, right, side-to-side sequence sans s’en apercevoir. I say “unknowingly” because I only became conscious of the repetitive eye movements when we lived at our first vineyard

It was during the busy wine harvest when I stole away for a break in my room. I remember laying in bed “stretching” my eyes in different directions when it struck me I’d been doing this a lot lately and that all this straining could be damaging! What if my eyes stuck that way (or one of those ways)? Even that didn’t stop me from doing the eye equivalent of scratching an itch. (And getting the same sort of relief).

Blink, stretch (left), blink, stretch (right), rouler, rouler…. I didn’t think much more of the “eye-scapades” until recently when the habit seemed to get worse. I began to wonder: is there an explanation for these forced eye movements and how common is it? Do you, dear reader, do such a thing? What’s this thing called?

Is it a simple compulsion? A habit? Un TOC? The internet didn’t list “eye stretching” among other popular obsessions, such as:

⇒ biting one's nails (ronger les ongles)
⇒ pulling one’s hair out (arracher les cheveux)
⇒ picking at one’s skin (gratter sa peau)
⇒ picking one’s eyelashes, eyebrows (arracher les cils, ou les sourcils)

Meantime, I googled an interesting term having to do with repeated eye movements: une saccade (French for “jerk”) is a quick, simultaneous movement of both eyes between two or more phases of fixation in the same direction. According to the Oxford dictionary, saccade means literally ‘violent pull’, (from Old French saquer ‘to pull’).

Tic is big word (often associated with Tourette’s)... maybe that’s why so many of us don’t make the conscious connection between our repetitive behavior and ticcing (ticking?). Here’s a non-exhaustive list of tics (when the following behavior is continuous):

⇒ blinking (clignements des yeux)
⇒ shoulder shrugging (haussements répétitifs des épaules)
⇒ Foot or finger tapping (tapotements involontaires du pied ou des doigts)
⇒ Sniffing (reniflements),
⇒ Throat clearing (raclement de gorge)

Saperlipopette! Looking over the 2 lists above, I realize I am not alone: some of my family members have either une manie or un tic—everything from continuous throat-clearing to incessant hair-pulling to a spectacular neck jerk. It appears that such gestures may be related to fatigue, anxiety, tension, or stress--even excitement or happiness. The heartening news is that,  just like a sneeze, tics can be controlled...

Ha! Tell that to a control freak.


Share your thoughts about tics and manies (compulsions): do you or a loved one suffer from one? Can you name a famous person with one? (Tennis champion Rafael Nadal, who before serving, rubs his ears and pinches his nose and bottom—il frotte ses oreilles, pince son nez et sa fesse. These are knowns as tics or "little routines", for which he is sometimes mocked.). Are all tics related to Tourette’s? Is there a positive side to tics? And do you know of a technique to reduce or eliminate this sometimes embarrassing behavior? Share your knowledge in the comments box.

bref =  in short
rouler les yeux = roll the eyes
sans s’en apercevoir = without realizing it
rouler = roll
une manie = habit, obsession 
un TOC (trouble obsessionnel compulsif) = OCD obsessive-compulsive disorder
ronger les ongles = to bite one’s nails 
arracher les cheveux = pull out one’s hair
gratter sa peau = to pick at one’s skin
arracher les cils, les sourcils = to pick one’s lashes, eyebrows 
une saccade = jerk, twitch
les clignements des yeux = eye blinking
les haussements répétitifs des épaules = shoulder shrugging 
les tapotements involontaires du pied ou des doigts = foot or finger tapping
les reniflements = sniffing
le raclement de gorge = throat clearing
saperlipopette = good heavens!
frotter ses oreilles = rub one’s ears
pincer son nez, sa fesse = pinch one’s nose, one’s bottom
Gilles de la Tourette
From Wikipedia: Tourette syndrome was named by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot for his intern, Georges Gilles de la Tourette, who published in 1885 an account of nine patients with a "convulsive tic disorder".

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety