Sa langue dans sa poche


I’ve never been known for being tongue tied.

When I was a little kid, I talked a blue streak. Family lore has it that my younger brother was assumed to be very quiet because I did all the talking for him: “That’s my brother. His name is David. He doesn’t talk very much.”

The first toy I remember getting for Christmas was a doll called Chatty Cathy. My parents probably hoped for a little relief. You pulled a string in her back and she would say things. After a little while the string broke but I kept chatting.

Things changed when I grew up. Shyness came upon me with the awareness of how I sounded to others, of how little I really knew about so many subjects, and how unpleasant it was to be around a loud mouth know-it-all. Either that or I had already used up all my words. Or at least the nice ones. Cursing became my new friend and I learned to do it with flair. Bloody fucking hell. Holy fuckoly. Fuck a duck.

When I first learned French, I was shy about speaking the language. Afraid of looking foolish, of not being understood or of saying something funny or frankly stupid. But once I came to France, there was no room for being timid. It was speak up or be ignored. So I spoke French and was misunderstood, corrected and laughed at. But I learned.

I learned that French is a language of subtlety and suggestion, that there are many indirect ways around things that we English speakers (or at least, we Chatty Cathy’s) would probably barge right into, feet first. I learned that it is not just what you say, but how you say it.

I also learned to swear with the best of them: merde, putain, fait chier.

I still feel shy at times. Whether with family, friends or professional associates I’m rarely the most talkative person in the room. Sometimes I don’t even answer the phone. But I love a good conversation and cannot resist an argument. And when I have something to say, I cannot remain silent.

The French expression ‘ne pas avoir sa langue dans sa poche’ means to be outspoken, to say what you think.

That’s me in the photo, at a team event a few years ago. With my tongue where I usually keep it.

How about you? Do you speak up or hold your peace – and in which language?

28 thoughts on “Sa langue dans sa poche

  1. It’s so easy to swear in French. Their swear words are very “imagés” and many don’t make me feel like I’m swearing.
    My problem is that on top of the fact that I talk way too much, with too much long-winded detail, my tongue speaks faster than my brain.
    Tact ? What’s that?

    1. I’ve often wished I lived in Québec just so I could some of their swear words: tabernac or calice de Christ!
      Never noticed you talked too much – certainly more than Michel if he’s your benchmark. 😉

    1. I like your take on that, Lisa! Self-aware and mostly able to judge when to zip it – although I have been known to have occasional ‘foot in mouth’ disease!

  2. Ha – great picture. My main problem with talking these days is that since I work at home and am alone most of the time when I do get a chance to chat I go overboard and then come home worried that I have bored everyone rigid… Plus, as little as two hours in conversation makes me feel utterly knackered!

    1. We are birds of a feather – I also work at home and mostly on my own and if it’s been too long between meetings with the real world I also can ramble on at my first contact. But mostly I’ve gotten away from too much talking and, like you, I find it exhausting!

  3. Meaning about the same as your title there is ” avoir la langue bien pendue” . On the contrary for people who don’t speak much you have either “tenir sa langue”, the painful “avoir avalé sa langue” or the stunning “avoir un boeuf sur la langue” . In between, to avoid speaking too fast “tourner sept fois sa langue dans la bouche avant de parler” is always a good advice .
    Thus you can be cleaner than people who often like telling bad things about others, called either “mauvaises langues” or “langues de vipère”.
    When you don’t know an answer “donner sa langue au chat” is the solution . But before that when you know the answer but can’t find it right now we say ” Je l’ai sur le bout de la langue” .French can have many things on their tongue indeed : people who lisp are said “avoir un cheveu sur la langue” .
    Of course to make someone speak you have to “lui délier la langue” first .
    Slang, l’argot, is poetically called “la langue verte”, and the best use of our tongue is of course called “the French kiss” .

      1. There are as many with the hand or the foot, and many more with the head and the heart . The whole body seems to be a source of inspiration for “images” . It is to help us remember we sometimes have a body to sustain our mind I think, though I hardly see why . .
        Sorry, I never found out how to express “like” on your blog . Can’t find how to do .

  4. My mother has famously only used the F word once and it was AT me in our drive mid-argument ‘the problem with you is you are too f***ing articulate’ she was also the author of the first letter I received when I left home. I still have it. It starts – ‘it is SO quiet here’ …. I think that gives a fair précis of which side of the fence I inhabit ….

    1. Ah, our dear moms….swearing was taboo for ladies of our mothers’ generation but by the sounds of it, you inspired similar sentiments to mine, whom I also drove to distraction with my lofty concepts. LOL. That letter sounds like a precious souvenir for the memory box!

  5. I totally understand you. I am more talkative one-on-one. If there is lots of people I probably will sit quietly and listen to what other people have to say. The French language is indeed very subtle sometimes and is definitely less direct than English. As for the Quebec swear words, they are very powerful and are to be used with caution. I have found that non-Quebekers don’t truly know how to use them properly and it doesn’t really work for them. Even people from France don’t know how to use the Quebec swear words and I would say they are better left alone…I also find interesting that expressions in French & English often use different animals to illustrate the same thing: in English – we say a frog in the throat but in French is it is cat. I remember doing literal translation of some of these French expressions when I first started learning English and made a lot of people laugh but then it was a way to learn the right expression. (Suzanne)

    1. I’m with you, Suzanne. I’ve learned to be rather careful despite my impulsive tongue about who I use slang and swear words with — especially in French. It seems to be all the more shocking for the French to hear curses spoken by a non-native. As for the French-Canadian cuss-words, I would be doubly careful due to the religious aspect. If there is one thing I dislike, it is a certain attitude amongst French (from France) speakers, that pokes fun at other accents and vocabulary. And you are right: translation is a great school (one that taught me a lot too!)

  6. I also work from home, so not only am I always stir-crazy for an outing (to anywhere!) but an opportunity to speak to an actual live person face to face is always welcome.

    I don’t think I’m super chatty unless it’s on a pet subject (like old French houses, or justice for all) but my daughter can rabbit a bit- At her wedding Trev opened his honourary father of the bride speech with the old chestnut
    ” when Kirsten left home, I thought I’d gone deaf..”

    1. Ha, ha, sounds like Dad has a good sense of humour! I am partly deaf (in one ear) and can vouch for the fact that it makes my actual hearing super sensitive. I enjoy the quiet of working at home, but it is very hard to tune out distractions like kids playing outside or even the dogs snoring (we have two Frenchies and they are LOUD).

  7. When I was learning French in high school, swear words were the first words that I flicked through the dictionary to learn! I think after 5 years of high school French, my vocabulary wasn’t extended much past that, and consequently I left with a good base of French 😉

    1. I’m amazed you even found such words in the dictionary. I found as a translator that the main dictionaries didn’t even list slang or swear words. Good on you for learning the essential first!

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