Hey, look at that! Forty French Fridays! How about we learn a little French.
This is a handy little phrase. If you listened closely to Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast” or “The Little Mermaid,” you’ve probably heard one of the characters utter an exasperated, “Zut alors!” The nice thing about this expression is that it won’t get you in trouble in polite society… unlike other words I could teach you. “Zut” is approximately equivalent in meaning and force to “darn it.” Not too salty. “Alors” on its own means “so,” “then,” or “well” (as a filler word, not a state of being). Put the two together and you get something more like “gosh darn it!” Still pretty safe.
When can you use it?
- After stubbing a toe
- When the kids knock over their cup at the table
- When you drop your change all over the bakery floor with a line of people behind you
- When you get in the car and realize that you left your sunglasses in the house
- When you find out the neighbor’s dog has knocked over your trash can. Again
Go ahead and fill in your own situations as needed.
So now, how do you pronounce it? Correct pronunciation is dear to my heart as you may remember from the Ratatouille post (you all have been saying it right since then, haven’t you?). I had a high school French teacher who spent a lot of time with us on pronunciation and I even took an entire class in college called Phonetics and Diction. And now you get to reap the benefit of all that study, without the homework or the tuition! What a deal!
First thing to know: Zut does not equal “zoot.” Although some of you may want to invoke the name of eccentric fashions past (“Ah, codpiece! My library books are overdue!”), that’s not what we’re doing here. The French U does not make a simple oo sound and is, in fact, one of the trickiest sounds for English speakers to master. But it can be done! First, say eeee, like this.
While still holding that ee sound, move your lips into a tight little O, like this.
The ee sound forced through O-shaped lips produces a French U. So now say zut. Bravo!
The next word, “alors” is not as hard. The A will be a gentle ah followed by a syllable that sounds like “lore,” with just a bit of tweaking. Instead of a hard English R in the front of the mouth (yes, you’re going to have to pay attention to what your tongue is doing), the French R is softer, almost in the throat. I said almost. Don’t get all German on me, here. How do you know if you’re doing it right? When you say “lore,” notice where your tongue is at the very beginning of the R sound — it’s down and back — and that’s where it needs to stay for the French R, instead of coming back up. All together now, alors (silent S, bien sûr). Got it?
Ok, let’s put it together! Zut alors!
Awesome! Now you’ve just added a little panache to your aggravation and no one can deny that life in general needs more panache.
Be sure to check back tomorrow (Saturday) for my contribution to the Pyjama Party Sew-Along! My jammies are looking pretty good, if I do say so myself!
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