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La Journée Star Wars… and Troublesome Translations

C’est la Journée Star Wars !  Joyeux 4 mai !


Today, I’m blogging about one of the greatest film sagas ever… d’un point de vue bilingue ! Throw in translation notes and what French-speakers call des calembours… and we’ve got an integrated lesson on le cinéma, la culture française et l’humour français. That’s an awesome mix, folks. C’est donc à ne pas manquer !  So don’t miss out!

La Journée Star Wars… et une pandémie

May 4th has rolled around and, very unexpectedly, we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic. I think we can all agree that 2020 is a year we’ll be talking about for a long time, mostly for very sad reasons. But hopefully, it’ll also be for the positive changes that should, must, and will follow this life-changing event.


Happily, one of the things keeping me going amid the slew of COVID-19 headlines and the mind-numbing ennui (that’s originally a French word, by the way!) is French à la folie!


Admittedly, it hasn’t been without struggle. Like many of you, I had to roll with the initial dips in productivity while coming to grips with le nouveau quotidien (the new normal). There are definitely des hauts et des bas (ups and downs) and certainly more tasks and risks to weigh up. (Who would have thought that one day, doing the groceries would exponentially increase your chances of suffering a painful death? Not me!)


Nevertheless, FALF has been un merveilleux phare (a wonderful beacon), guiding me through the endless blur of time, as we slip through days, weeks, and (soon) months of confinement. And I’m happy to have had your readership along the way, chères lectrices et chers lecteurs. Un grand merci donc à vous tous ! Thanks for the support!


Star Wars : Remède contre le cafard


Another thing cheering me up is Star Wars, the film series that’s been winning over hearts and geeky minds since the 70s. And much to my delight, the television networks have been airing these films a lot lately, likely in celebration of May the 4th, which is Star Wars Day or la Journée Star Wars. It’s also possible they’re using the movie marathons as un remède contre le cafard  (literally: “a remedy against the cockroach,” or an antidote to the doldrums).


In case you’re not familiar with the versions françaises (“les VF”), here are their titles:


La Trilogie originale (1977 à 1983)

    • Star Wars, Épisode IV : Un nouvel espoir  ( ➥ Wikipedia)
    • Star Wars, Épisode V : L’Empire contre-attaque  ( ➥ Wikipedia)
    • Star Wars, Épisode VI : Le Retour du Jedi  ( ➥ Wikipedia)


La Prélogie (1999 à 2005)

    • Star Wars, Épisode I : La Menace fantôme  ( ➥ Wikipedia)
    • Star Wars, Épisode II : L’Attaque des clones  ( ➥ Wikipedia)
    • Star Wars, Épisode III : La Revanche des Sith  ( ➥ Wikipedia)


La Troisième Trilogie (2015 à 2019)

    • Star Wars, Épisode VII : Le Réveil de la Force  ( ➥ Wikipedia)
    • Star Wars, Épisode VIII : Les Derniers Jedi  ( ➥ Wikipedia)
    • Star Wars, Épisode IX : L’Ascension de Skywalker  ( ➥ Wikipedia)


Name Wars


Curiously, while some francophones call the saga La Guerre des étoiles (literally: “The War of the Stars”), others stick to the English name completely. (And some reserve the French name for the first film, Episode IV, but call the others “Star Wars” because of post-release title changes.)


I’ve always found this an interesting example of how some traductions (translations), while easy enough to figure out, may not translate in terms of popularity. With Star Wars being so symbolic of American cinema, it’s hard to get away from its English name. It’d be like talking about a different movie if you called it anything else. I suppose that’s why some default to “Star Wars,” as the film companies did. Though it’s a minor shame, as I have no problem with La Guerre des étoiles !


Failure to Translate


…Which brings me back to la Journée Star Wars and another challenging translation.


In English, this event goes by the witty name May the 4th Be With You. For the uninitiated, this is a play on the famous Star Wars quote “May the Force be with you.” See what they did there? May, the month, and May, the verb? Fourth and Force? It’s a pun enthusiast’s dream: la polysémie (polysemy) and la presque homophonie (near homophony). In other words, multiple meanings and near-identical pronunciations.


You’ll also notice that, in a sad twist of fate, the pun doesn’t work in French AT ALL. Le 4 mai and Que la Force soit avec toi/vous are very sadly, not a verbal match in heaven. (Trust me, I’ve seen the attempts on Instagram and all of them fell so, so very flat.)


So instead of forcing (sorry!) a square peg into a round hole, I’ve embraced the common French practice of naming annual events after their dates and I’ve gone with le 4 mai insteadas many francophone fans have done, I might add. So I’d probably say, “bon 4 mai” or “joyeux 4 mai” and throw in a “Que la Force soit avec vous” to cover all the bases. True, it doesn’t get as many points for coolness or pithiness, but this seems to be the clearest nod to both the saga and translation sagesse (wisdom).


“Les Français et leurs calembours”


Now, why is this so significant? Let me tell you: I can think of no other cultures that appreciate un jeu de mots or un calembour (a play on words, a pun) more than francophone cultures. Especially the French. And I mean it.


While puns are dangerously hit-or-miss in English—to the point that anglophones often offer a preemptive “excuse the pun,” lest we provoke the ire of an unamused interlocutor—no such wordplay fatigue seems to exist in French. None. In fact, during a conversation with a French friend about humour, I once retorted, “Ah, les Français et leurs calembours ! ” And this drew an unusually wide grin from him because he knew I had a point!


Whether it’s naming a wine shop “Vin sur vin” (a play on “vingt sur vingt,” which refers to a perfect score of 20 out of 20), or the recent chortling over pandémie (pandemic) and pain de mie (sandwich bread), many francophones equate the pun with fun… and wit… and therefore, intelligence. It’s integral, even central, to French humour, which is what makes the missed opportunity of May the Fourth so… unfourtunate.*


What that punchline, I will restrain myself and wish all of you…


Un très joyeux 4 mai ! Que la Force et la bonne santé soient avec vous tous pendant cette période difficile. Bon courage et prenez soin de vous et de vos proches !


— K


Infortuné(e) is generally used for unlucky people so it’d be a stretch here! Mince ! Foiled again!


• • •


Find more of my musings about French and life… right here!


© 2020 French à la folie

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