S’entendre

Beautiful Madeline and Humphrey

‘Entendre’ is one of those French words that effortlessly brings together different concepts and blends them into one. It means both to hear and to understand. Employed in its reflexive verb version, s’entendre, it also means to agree and even to get along with someone.

There is no understanding without hearing. And if you do hear someone, and I mean really hear them, you are halfway to understanding. Which is the basis for every agreement.

Perhaps this wisdom is one reason why French became the language of diplomacy.

Diplomacy never having been a strong point, I struggle daily with this.

Several years ago I lost all of the hearing in my left ear. The diagnosis of the problem that led to this was a perfect example of one doctor who neither heard nor understood my complaint and another who did.

Thankfully, my right ear remains fully operational. The resulting lopsided hearing, however, can be painful. It means that my good side often gets an earful of unwanted sound such as music or conversation. This can make me miserable in restaurants, for example, where the next-door table is a bit loud. Conversely, it makes it impossible to hear anyone on the left side. Generally I avoid sitting with anyone on my left (other than husband, whom I know well enough to guess what he’s saying or can comfortably ignore). At parties or crowded events of any kind, I must constantly perform a strategic repositioning to catch important information, turning me into a sort of whirling dirvish.

It can be comical. I have no ability to pinpoint where sound is coming from, so will turn my head like a radar when someone calls me on the street. People who call themselves friends and even family have been known to have fun with this.

What I’ve gained in return for the hearing loss, however, is considerable. Selective hearing, the ability to tune out unwanted noise, is essential to understanding. It is a skill I’ve been forced to learn, one that I haven’t yet mastered, but is beginning to serve me well. Je m’entends.

I am literally learning to tune out unwanted noise to better understand my world.

And the magical, wonderful thing that happens when you do this is that you begin to read the subtext, the real message that lies beneath the surface.

Getting along with anyone, be it family, friends or work associates, is challenging. No matter how much you appreciate someone, there are times when you just can’t share their point of view. With family, at least with mine, there are times when you would cheerfully gag them to shut them up. But if hearing is the basis for understanding, then not hearing is also a strategy. At times like these, it helps to turn a deaf ear.

Do we understand each other?

15 thoughts on “S’entendre

  1. It’s funny Mel . One morning when was 11 I woke up with my left ear nearly deaf, the same as you, and I never recovered . In this antique time medicine was only enbryonic and doctors didn’t care much so I very well know what you live, just I’m more experienced in it . i can tell you it’s not more a problem, I just have to move in the right side when I want to really listen to someone in a noisy place but it became automatic . It’s only a pain to pinpoint the origin of a sound when I walk in the forest for instance . The good side is for trying to fall asleep in a noisy environment, lying down on our good ear provides a welcome sound isolation . Good trick !
    I discovered that this one-ear deafness is rather common, people don’t mention it but when I have to explain my attitude I realize that quite a few people work with one good ear too . Didn’t you notice ?
    Besides, what to say about all the people who got two operational ears and seldom listen or barely understand ? 😜 “They have ears and they don’t …”
    Anyway we know that the most precious ear is the third one . À bon entendeur salut !

    1. What a funny coincidence, Phil! A similar thing happened to my father-in-law — from a young age he became deaf, probably from untreated repeat ear infections. And, like you, has totally gotten used to it and adapts. You’re right of course, it’s not that unusual. My daughter’s boyfriend also has it, so that’s 3 of us within one family group. I guess losing my hearing on one side late in life made it harder to adapt, especially with some balance issues due to the inner ear, but I do see now that there are advantages. Although I must say I often get a stiff neck from sleeping with my good ear to the pillow! I’m totally with you about the precious ‘third ear’. 😀

      1. Thinking about the other meaning of “entendre”, that is to understand, we can notice that understand both in Spanish and Portuguese is “entender”, while to hear is in Portuguese “ouvir” and in Spanish “oir” . These verbs are cousins of the literary French “ouïr”, meaning to hear, that is only kept in the expression “ouï-dire”, literally meaning a hearsay .
        This verb is unfortunately neglected, for most of its conjugation is a source of funny ambiguities . Its past participle is rather positive :”ouï”, like this ” Je lui ai demandé sa main et elle m’a ouï” . At the present tense it does “j’ois”, with a silent “s” so it sounds good too . My favourite is the passé simple : “J’ouïs !” ‘sweet demand, don’t you think ?
        Pardon me for using your blog with my militancy for the rehabilitation of the verb ouïr in everyday’s life, which would be a bit more joyful so . Even more, this verb is the craddle of rock’n roll ! In the kings times public announcements were conducted by guys with a powerful voice whose first shouting was “Oyez! Oyez!” (Hear: Hear:! imperative mood) . It is exactly shouted as “Oh yeah !” And this was the original spring of rock’n roll . (If you don’t believe me look into Voltaire’s secret memories prefaced by Jimmy Page ) .

      2. I wholeheartedly approve of fighting for language on this blog, sir! ‘Hear ye, hear ye’ as we say sounds remarkably like ‘oyez, oyez’, which I will never again hear without thinking of ‘oh yeah!’ Thanks for that! 😉

  2. Love the image of pussy-footing! I think the ability to tune out is extremely valuable (I write this as demolishers are drilling through concrete next door to prepare for a new build). Entendre always makes me think of mansplaining and grumpy parents – listen and you might learn something…

    1. Image shamelessly stolen from Tumblr! 😉 (Although above one is my daughter and our dog). Sounds like you’ll need to seriously work on zen and the art of ‘entendre’ in order to survive the building next door!

  3. Turning a deaf ear to family and friends and being a little selective in what one absorbs in the news is a good way to keep the blood pressure lowered, I am sure. What an excellent example of finding the silver lining you give us!

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