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Why is it so funny to make everything a little French? Une exposé

But seriously, pour quoi?

TextTom RasmussenIllustrationMarija Marc

As a journalisté, it’s incredibly important to me that the stories into which I investigate are cutting edge. Breaking news. Exposé. That’s why I’m here to ask the question on everyone’s lips: why is making everything sound a little bit French so funny?

There’s only one mainstream cultural touchpoint for this phenomenon, and it’s Nigella Lawson’s most memed term: microwavé. But look online, or in the top-secret Signal groups of London’s most cutting-edge queers (me xx) and everything will always be tinged with un petit pois French.

J’adore; chic; stunnique – the stunning and unique portmanteau of stunning and unique. Sumpique – sumptuous and unique. We could go on forevique. Under the Frankification of words in this queer sense, we also find ourselves changing the term ‘Climate Crisis’ to the far more entertaining ‘Climate CousCous’. Yes, couscous isn’t particularly French, but it is with the gay and fancy abandon of the French language that we pronounce the name for the imminent climate couscous that looks dead set to end the human race. In a severe and downright terminal context our French words allow us to lighten the mood. Gorj. Gorjoise. Gorjus. (At this point they’re not even French).

The bastardisation of the already bastardised English language, at least in my life, arrived via my chic friends Harry and Jacob who would message back and forth for hours in those early years of the 2010s, altering every word possible to make it sound a little French. “Our motivation for this filth,” chic Harry tells me, “was really a desire to inject a sense of glamour into everyday convo. A hybrid linguistic lens of glamour and fun.”

Lest we forget that moment in time when every word containing an ‘o’ was spelled with the distinctly French ‘eaux’. Slow became sleaux. Show became sheaux. Shoe became sheauxe. And dog became deauxg. It was wordle but not embarrassing. It signified, and signifies, a connection to what’s important: chicness, glameauxr, fashieauxn.

Why is it so funny though? It’s certainly not because it’s funny to laugh at French people, or the French language. Both are violently chic; endlessly more chic than us trashy Brits and our foul foul flabby vernacular. And this is where the humour begins, in our own degradation. Frenching it up allows us to feel fancy, to feel classy, because there’s an understanding that as Brits we are a culturally somewhat barren nation at this point. A failed state. And while France is a barbaric nation in many ways, their language and their sensibility is much more chic. Perhaps it’s because they had a class revolution and we didn’t, despite the fact we are long overdue one. 2022 perhaps? Je suis can pray.

“Using French casually is very funny,” Shon Faye, author of the politically brilliant smash hit The Transgender Issue, tells me over WhatsApp. “I say that as someone whose middle name is Ennemond – because it was my French grandfather’s name – and I still find that very funny. I think it comes from something to do with the fact that lots of us, in Britain, learned French really badly, and as a culture we’re really bad at learning foreign languages. And certainly in the 2000s there was that period where we just started using ‘tres’ a lot. I remember on MSN messenger being like ‘I’m tres bored’. There’s just something very funny about mispronouncing French. Is there anything funnier than at a brash party calling someone younger than you an ‘Enfant terrible’ [mispronounced on voice note, of course]. I mean, remember when Girls Aloud covered their own single Can’t Speak French in French?”

Do I? My God. Upon a quick listen, I’m thrust into a world of Pig French, and back right down memory lane to Cheryl’s god-awful pronunciation. The best part about the chorus of “Je Ne Parle Pas Francais” is that ‘the funky music’ becomes ‘la funky music’. This music soundtracked every night of me watching the handbags by the benches as the gals got fbanged in the woods. Tres belle times.

“I don’t know why it sounds funny,” Tom Prior, truly a TikTok expert, tells me, “but I’ve always thought the French language to be the ultimate ‘gaslight gatekeep girlboss’. Gaslight you into thinking you’re not pronouncing words properly; gatekeep by enjoying you spluttering your way through ordering food in French; and girlboss… I dunno… Emily in Paris.”

For me, it is absolutely about class. Hate to be that boring girl. It’s about tipping your beret to all the girls we once were at our state comps who would pronounce chic like “chick” (honestly mainline that into my veins). It’s my friend Jessica telling me about “a dead posh brand called Channel” when I was in year six, and us both dreaming of one day being rich enough to wear head-to-toe Channel. It’s Chanel the African Grey Parrot. It’s the same as when you watch the French news and they have to say something in English because there’s no French word for it (“J’adore Lady Gaga, je pense que c’est une artiste vraiment intéressante”). Also, a speedy note on accents: the mòrè thę bêttèr, always misplæced.

Now we are grown, and we don’t own Channel because who the feauxck can afford it? So instead we make ourselves feel good and fancy by adding the verve and the campery of French-ish to our daily conversations. It’s The Queer Art Of Failure mixed seamlessly with The Communist Manifesto mixed seamlessly with Belle du Jour’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl. J’adore. J’aDior.

It’s stupid. Thank god. Because as the world only spins forwards towards inevitable climate couscous, a transpheauxbic media, a vile vile fascist-in-disguise government, god knows we need a un petit pois un glamour de la fashion j’adore le Francais. Chic xoxo