An Antwerp clog - now what would Froggy say?

Related Topics
WE HAD a French teacher at school whose name was Ian Hunter, but who was known to succeeding generations as 'Froggy' Hunter, which just goes to show what a wonderfully inventive sense of humour the English have, even when young. Hunter must have had a sense of humour himself in electing to try to teach languages to British children for, as he himself often said, the British have no inbuilt urge to learn other languages.

'Sometimes,' he once told us, 'sometimes I think they cannot even conceive of the existence of other languages. I remember in the war, when I was in the Navy, having to teach some British recruits the basics of French, and the first word I taught them was 'Anglais', as it seemed wise to know what the French called us. One poor thing said she refused to believe that there was a

French word for English. She said that the word for English

was 'English' and there couldn't

be any other word for it. She actually burst into tears at the thought.'

You sometimes get the same sort of shock when you discover that people living abroad will not accept our names for places. That they don't call it London, but Londres. Not Edinburgh or Wales but Edimbourg and le pays de Galles. Nor will they accept our names for their places - they won't call it Florence or Munich, but Firenze and Munchen - and there is only mild comfort in finding out that they do it to each other, and that the Germans call Venice Venedig and refuse to refer to Milan as Milan or Milano but call it Mailand.

The French are as bad as us

at refusing to use the correct name. Back in the days when

my wife smoked, I tried to buy her a packet of cigarettes in France.

'Un paquet de Dunhill Menthol, svp,' I said.

'Nous n'en avons pas,' said the kiosk lady, which was not true, as I could see them on the shelf behind her.

'Mais, oui, elles sont la, derriere vous, sur le rayon]'

'Non,' she said, refusing to turn round. The only thing I could think of that I might have done wrong was to pronounce Dunhill Menthol English-style. I imagined that I was a Frenchman trying to say it.

'Avez-vous un paquet de Durneel Montol?'

'Durneel Montol] Pas de probleme]'

And so it goes. But I think that very gradually, very slowly, things are starting to change, and I think the man most responsible is Eric Cantona, the French player with Manchester United. He is the first star French player to play in England, and therefore the first Frenchman whose name gets used a lot, and therefore pronounced correctly. Left to ourselves we would probably call him Cantona, with the same middle stress as Cortina, but someone registered quite early on that the French stress words, if at all,

on the last syllable, and there-

fore his name sounds more like 'Contona' than anything else. It's quite a revolution in its own little way.

And thanks to our saturation with foreign football, people are now watching Italian football on Channel 4 and hearing 'Serie A' pronounced in the Italian fashion, with the first letter of the alphabet sounded as 'Ah'. The woman in 'Froggy' Hunter's class would have burst into even louder weeping if she had known that they pronounce the alphabet differently overseas, but 'Froggy' was quite right in saying that it is one of the first things you should learn in any foreign language. It may be too late for us ever to pronounce Tin Tin as Herge did, ie more like 'Tan Tan', but maybe one day it will be obvious to us that the name Herge is really just the way the French say 'RG', which were, in fact, Herge's real initials.

Of course, it is possible to be too clever, as I found out the first time I saw wheel clamps in France. I had never seen them abroad before, and asked some French person what the French expression for 'wheel clamp' was.

'Un sabot d'Anvers,' was the answer.

'Sabot', I knew, meant a clog or a boot. 'Anvers', I remembered from school, was the French name for Antwerp. Quite why a wheel clamp should be called an Antwerp clog was beyond me, but I felt proud of knowing something new and up- to-date in French and showed off my knowledge at regular intervals. Until I met a Frenchman who said that it wasn't called an Antwerp clog at all. 'It's called a Denver boot, 'un sabot Denver',' he said.

The fact that 'sabot d'Anvers' and 'sabot Denver' are pronounced the same was not much consolation for all the retrospective embarrassment I felt. I'm glad I've got it off my chest now.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity is available to ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leading specialist i...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Support Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This role's responsibility also include operat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer - Northern Home Counties

£27000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their revenue and profit have g...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A banner supporting the NO vote in the upcoming referendum hangs from the offices of the Greek Finance Ministry on Wednesday  

Greece crisis: The Troika’s inflexibility on austerity amounts to nothing short of an attempted coup

Caroline Lucas
Chancellor George Osborne will present his post-election budget on 8th July (Getty)  

Osborne’s Budget will touch on social reform – but he’s no Lloyd George

Donald Macintyre
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy