E dans l’o

I never learned Latin. The dead languages were considered passé in the public education system when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. Latin was relegated to religious study. I often regret this lack. It would have been helpful to understand the root meanings of many French words.

I’ve only just discovered that in French the combination of ‘o’ and ‘e’ as œ is called ‘e dans l’o’. The funny thing is that when spoken this way it sounds like ‘oeufs dans l’eau’ (eggs in water). It’s an easy mnemonic and a fun way of describing this feisty little coupling of vowels in French.

In these times of confinement, of being stuck together, I am oddly moved by the poetry of this union. ‘Cœur’ offers the perfect example; o is joined to e just as hearts are joined in love. Old friends and lovers, siblings and kindred spirits who know each other intimately even after years of absence. This is the beauty of e dans l’o.

And there are so many other words with œ that represent the coming together of efforts or things: œuvre, a work of art or body of work; chœur, a choir; vœu, a wish; nœud, a knot.

Photo by Will O on Unsplash

I saw an œuvre last week that stirred my cœur as such things rarely do. A beautiful, original, heart-stopping film that filled me with sorrow and joy, while reminding me that what we are going through right now is nothing. Nothing at all.

It was a real discovery, having never seen any of the director/writer/actor’s work. Now I look forward to watching more. Taika Waititi has a unique talent for blending the dramatic with the comic. Just exactly my cup of tea.

Perhaps isolation gives us a different point of view on things we take for granted. Little things. A beautiful day. A cup of tea. A call from a friend.

Πis a small thing. Yet even tiny things can achieve a great deal. Like a virus wreaking havoc on the world as we know it. This tiny combination of cells is behind the pandemic that is bringing our economy to a halt, ripping lives apart, making a mockery of politics.

But it works both ways. By joining together in our efforts, by caring for one another, perhaps we can each make a difference. However small.

Whatever you do today, do it with cœur.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

Has anything moved you lately?


  1. Carolyn · April 2, 2020

    Still used in English too – manoeuvre …

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      Yes, but interestingly generally a different pronunciation — we would say (in Canadian English): man-oo-ver. Also ‘ee’ as in Phoebe… Also, I’ve never seen anyone bother with the ligature in English!

  2. M. L. Kappa · April 2, 2020

    When I was in school, I was SO bored,of the interminable Latin and especially Ancient Greek, which we had to translate and which was not always the same over the centuries. Homer, for example, had a class all to himself! But now I so enjoy knowing the root of things! And yes, what we’re going through is nothing. Compared to what our parents went through, and to what millions not as well off as us are going through right now. I keep thinking of the homeless, or the millions without access to water. Lockdown in India, for example, is no joke. Take care 🌹

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      I can imagine that Ancient Greek would have seemed boring in school! How lucky you are to have been force fed this classical education though, with hindsight. I think it adds dimension to so many things, probably your art as well! Stay well. 💚

  3. margaret21 · April 2, 2020

    What a lovely post. I didn’t know about the ‘e dans ‘o thing at all, but I like the connections you’ve drawn.

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      Thanks! We learn something new everyday, as they say. Especially when stuck inside! 😊

  4. phildange · April 2, 2020

    This oeuvre you watched, you discovered it with your “oeil” (important example of the eggs in water isn”it). There is a common proverb that plays with it : “Qui vole un oeuf vole un boeuf” . Even foreigners who live in France happen to know this one, provided they accept to speak French with French people, which is pretty rare actually .

    You know there also is “e dans l’a” . For this crazy/lazy time here is a gift from my revered Serge Gainsbourd, who explains the thing for dummies in his title “Elaeudanla Teïtéïa” (for Laetitia), a bit like Van Morrison did with the legendary “Gloria”.

    In the comments below the clip the lyrics are all written .

    And well, why not spending our confinment time listening to this eternal gem (no relation but it’s so good)

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      Funnily enough, the ‘oeil’ was one of the words I struggled with most when first learning French. I found the pronunciation intimidating and kept wanting to stick a ‘u’ in there as well! Thanks for sharing especially the Gainsbourg clip. I can see why he became an icon especially well from this early recording. An his talent as a lyricist is undeniable. The ‘a dans l’e’ is somehow less prevalent though. As for Patti Smith, a huge talent for sure, if a bit raunchy for this little Canadian! 😀

    • Dale · April 2, 2020


  5. maidinbritain · April 2, 2020

    Beautiful. Beautiful beautiful. Thank you. A perfect small piece to start my day.
    (You may remember me as Memoirs of a Husk, by the way, I rarely comment or post any more but have returned t it sporadically lately.).
    I learned Latin at (Catholic girls’) school, continued with it till 18 and then needed it at university for the kind of history I studied. It is a very useful background for all wordy endeavours but helped more with Spanish for me than French. And was pretty much not use with the Dutch I had to learn when I worked for Philips in the Netherlands! I am so rusty I can barely translate mottos but I do recognise the origins of many words in regular usage. I am writing poetry now and was criticised by someone for using a ‘Latin derived word’ – I’m not good at ignoring criticism but i thought that was plain bonkers!

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      Thank you for commenting! It does my heart good to know that a more poetic attempt at a post can reach its mark. 🥰 So very glad to hear you’ve kept up blogging and will check out your new site. How ridiculous to criticize the use of words derived from Latin. Sounds like the green monster to me. Stay well!

  6. Taste of France · April 2, 2020

    Your examples and writing are so touching. Like the O and E, which snuggle despite confinement.
    Yes, Latin is something I wish I’d learned, but I used up my will to fight with the battle against typing and shorthand and in favor of calculus. I was a good student and thus would be highly employable as a secretary upon graduation if I learned to type, whereas calculus was for boys. Indeed, there was only one other girl in calculus and she and I traded the top spot between each other. When I told my school counselor I didn’t want to become a secretary, that I would HAVE a secretary, I got in big trouble.
    BTW, I did have a secretary (a man), and I can touch-type 200 words a minute. Learned in in a two-month summer school course. An entire year would have been a waste of time. Latin was for boys who planned to become doctors.
    Glad the 1970s are over.

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      Merci mille fois! ❣️
      Calculus! What a brave woman you were (are), and clearly you succeeded in your determination to buck the stereotypes despite learning how to touch type. I also used to disparage this kind of gender-based education but nonetheless was not up to fighting it out in math. I flunked out in Home Ec though. Never could sew!

  7. Joanne Sisco · April 2, 2020

    This was a rather poetic post. I’ll never look at an oe quite the same way again 😊

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      Ha, ha…it will never look the same to me, either! It was a bit of a departure. Confinement oblige!

  8. Liz · April 2, 2020

    I agree…. a poetic post.
    I will forward this to our resident expert in Latin. Talia is studying Latin as an elective to her music major, although she also studied it throughout high school… so it is not new to her at all!
    ❤️ Liz

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      Thank you, Liz! How lucky is Talia to be studying music and Latin — I am envious!! I hope she is staying well in residence. Please send her my love! 😘

  9. George lewis · April 2, 2020

    Lovely post

  10. Osyth · April 2, 2020

    I think of all the things you have ever written, this is the one that touches me most deeply. It is absolutely beautiful. I had never stopped and considered the lovely words that are e dans l’o and how I love that play on words too! I watched Jo Jo Rabbit on my lasts trip to London. My third daughter had implored me to watch it and it was playing on the flight. I have no words to truly express my love for it. I was familiar with Taika Waikiki through ‘Flight of the Conchordes’ and ‘What we do in the shadows’ amongst others and absolutely love him. Did you know that he had to play Hitler himself because no-one else wanted to do it!! Honestly, M – this is just the most fabulous piece. From start to finish it is every bit as delicious as the body of words oe form the cœur of X

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      Means so much coming from you, Osyth, a poet and soul sister! I felt exactly the way you describe your feelings for the film — without words to express just how deeply enamoured of it I was. I love the way he played Hitler too — completely took the evil power away and made him into a comic book character. So pleased to have touched your œ heart with my sentiments. 🥰

  11. Dale · April 2, 2020

    How did I not know that it was called that! Sigh.
    Bizarrely, even with I put my keyboard into French, it does not stick the oe together. Which I find sad (and no, I’m not going to use an ASCII code to write it. Too lazy for that 😉
    Wonderful distraction, Mel.

    • MELewis · April 2, 2020

      So glad you enjoyed, Dale! A little secret I learned from some kind soul in the Twittersphere is that if you hold the key down for a moment, all the accents and character options magically appear above. Works with any vowel on the keyboard, at least on a Mac. Truly life changing as I was forever battling with my keyboard! Hope it helps!

      • Dale · April 2, 2020

        I did.
        As for the accents/special symbols: with a cellphone, yes; not with my laptop 😉
        I hate commenting with my phone.

      • MELewis · April 3, 2020

        I meant with a laptop! I am useless on mobile (advanced age, ugh!)! 😂😂

      • Dale · April 3, 2020

        Hah! Well… I don’t touch Apple products so I am doomed…

  12. Susanne · April 2, 2020

    Thank you for this uplifting post.

    • MELewis · April 3, 2020

      You are most welcome! ❤️

  13. Ally Bean · April 2, 2020

    I never studied Latin in school either, but learned some while majoring in English Literature in undergrad. I like how you’ve woven a symbol into musing on doing things with heart. I try to do that. Would that more people would do the same.

    • MELewis · April 3, 2020

      Thank you so much, Ally! To be honest, I almost abandoned the post before publishing. It felt like something too far away from my usual angle. But that link with heart sort of found itself and now I’m glad it reached its mark! ❤️

  14. kairosia · April 3, 2020

    Such a fine post, beautifully written and reflecting the sensitivity you found in the film. Great art alters us and at its best conjoins sorrow and joy, the fullness of one’s heart. And so you did here. Thank you.

    • MELewis · April 6, 2020

      Thank you from the bottom of my heart. ❣️ Such kind words fill me with joy!

  15. Teacher Camille · May 20, 2020

    Very lovely message. ❤ I love how you analysed the language and connected it to this time. 🙂

    • MELewis · May 20, 2020

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. 😊

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