The Art of Conversation (l’art de la conversation)
How to have Civilised Genteel Conversations about Sex, French Style!
The French, more than many other cultures, have created a culture of good conversation. However, as a nation that almost literally created the language of amour, the French are great teachers in the joys of conversation without having to be confrontational which is often the case in American ‘argument culture’.
Historically speaking, this oral culture can be traced back to the salons of the 18th century. While the same settings no longer exist today, this culture of lengthy dinners in the city, colloquiums and debate clubs is still very present today in France. Eloquence is something of a bargaining chip in French culture. – The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed, by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau. 2016
We found that by creating a good-natured atmosphere of bonhomie, we can have honest enlightening conversations about sexuality, where we leave feeling energized rather than the ‘attack politics’ that currently dominates so much of what passes for discourse in conversation today.
In homage, we try to create a French-influenced style of communication in our discussion groups, where we can enjoy l’art de la conversation. The joy of great conversation with intelligent people about a subject many of us are passionate about, sex!
French Expressions used in English for Communication and Love!
As a historical fact, in matters of love or diplomacy, the French created such wonderful words of subtle (French!) communication, that they are used in English!
By showing the sheer French range and influence on the English language in matters of love and communication, we pay homage to the French and we try to encourage rules or open yet civilized discourse.
Here are some examples of original French words in diplomacy and communication which are now used in English. Original English was a clunky language without finesse. So it literally had to borrow words from the French to communicate clarity and detail with élan!
- au contraire – on the contrary.
- au naturel – 1. a. Nude. b. In a natural state: an au naturel hairstyle. 2. Cooked simply.
- avant-garde (pl. avant-gardes)applied to cutting-edge or radically innovative movements in art, music, and literature; figuratively “on the edge”.
- blasé – unimpressed with something because of overfamiliarity, jaded.
- bon appétit – lit. “good appetite”; “enjoy your meal”.
- bon voyage – lit. “good journey”; have a good trip!
- bourgeois – a member of the bourgeoisie. Now the term is derogatory, and it applies to a person whose beliefs, attitudes, and practices are conventionally middle-class.
- bureau – government office; an agency for information exchange. Also means “desk” in French, and in the U.K.
- cache – a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place.
- c’est la vie – “That’s life!” or “Such is life!”. Though either foreign expression can be used to say that life is harsh but that one must accept it.
- chargé d’affaires – a diplomat left in charge of day-to-day business at a diplomatic mission.
- chauffeur – driver.
- chic – stylish.
- cinéma vérité – realism in documentary filmmaking. “Vérité” means “truth”.
- cliché – originally referred to a printer’s block used to reproduce type, compare the original meaning. A phrase that has become trite through overuse; a stereotype.
- clique – a small exclusive group of friends; always used in a pejorative way in French.
- comme ci, comme ça – lit. “like this, like that”; neither good nor bad, so-so.
- communiqué – lit. “communicated”; an official communication.
- concierge – a receptionist at a hotel or residence.
- coup d’état – political coup, government overthrow.
- coup de grâce – the final blow that results in victory (lit. “blow of mercy”), used to refer to the killing of badly wounded enemy soldiers, now more often used in a figurative context (e.g., business).
- couture – fashion (usually refers to high fashion).
- critique – a critical analysis or evaluation of a work, or the art of criticizing.
- déjà vu – lit. “already seen”: an impression or illusion of having seen or experienced something before.
- dénouement – lit. “untying”: the resolution of a narrative.
- détente – easing of diplomatic tension.
- dossier – a file containing detailed information about a person.
- du jour – lit. “of the day”: said of something fashionable or hip for a day and quickly forgotten; today’s choice on the menu, as soup du jour.
- élan – a distinctive flair or style.
- en garde – “[be] on [your] guard”. “On guard” is of course perfectly good English: the French spelling is used for the fencing term.
- en route – on the way
- enfant terrible – lit. “terrible child;” a disruptively unconventional person.
- ennui – A gripping listlessness or melancholia caused by boredom; depression
- entrepreneur – a person who undertakes and operates a new enterprise or venture and assumes some accountability for the inherent risks.
- esprit de corps – lit. “spirit of the body [group]”: a feeling of solidarity among members of a group; morale. Often used in connection with a military force.
- façade – the front view of an edifice; a fake persona, as in “putting on a façade”
- fait accompli – lit. “accomplished fact”; something that has already happened and is thus unlikely to be reversed; a done deal.
- fin de siècle – The end of the century; the closing of one era and onset of another.
- gaffe – blunder
- genre – a type or class, such as “the thriller genre”.
- haute couture – lit. “high sewing”: Paris-based custom-fitted clothing; trend-setting fashion.
- homage – to honor or respect.
- impasse – a situation offering no escape, as a difficulty without a solution, an argument where no agreement is possible, etc.; a deadlock.
- ingénu(e) – an innocent young man/woman.
- je ne sais quoi – lit. “I-don’t-know-what”: an indescribable or indefinable ‘something’ that distinguishes the object in question from others that are superficially similar.
- joie de vivre – “joy of life/living”.
- mêlée – a confused fight; a struggling crowd.
- milieu – social environment; setting (has also the meaning of “middle” in French).
- motif – a recurrent thematic element.
- nom de guerre – pseudonym to disguise the identity of a leader of a militant group, literally “war name”, used in France for “pseudonym”.
- nom de plume – originally a “back-translation” from the English “pen name”: author’s pseudonym.
- nouveau riche lit. “newly rich”, used to refer particularly to those living a garish lifestyle with their newfound wealth.
- objet d’art – a work of art, commonly a painting or sculpture; also a utilitarian object displayed for its aesthetic qualities.
- panache – verve; flamboyance.
- par excellence – better than all the others, quintessential.
- parole – in criminal justice conditional early release from prison; see parole.
- patois – a dialect; jargon
- poseur – lit. “poser”: a person who pretends to be something he is not; an affected or insincere person; a wannabe.
- protégé(e) – lit. “protected”; a man/woman who receives support from an influential mentor.
- provocateur – an agitator, a polemicist.
- raison d’être – “reason for being”: justification or purpose of existence.
- rapprochement – the establishment of cordial relations, often used in diplomacy.
- répondez s’il-vous plaît – (RSVP) Please reply.
- riposte – attack and response (used in fencing), counter-argument.
- roman à clef – lit. “novel with a key”: an account of actual persons, places or events in fictional guise.
- sang-froid – lit. “cold blood”: coolness and composure under strain; stiff upper lip.
- savant – lit. “knowing”: a wise or learned person; in English, one exceptionally gifted in a narrow skill.
- soirée – an evening party.
- sommelier – a wine steward.
- tête-à-tête – lit. “head to head”; an intimate get-together or private conversation between two people.
- touché – lit. “touched” or “hit!”: acknowledgment of an effective counterpoint or verbal riposte; comes from terminology in the sport of fencing.
- tour de force – lit. “feat of strength”: a masterly or brilliant stroke, creation, effect, or accomplishment.
- tout de suite – right now, immediately. Often mangled as “toot sweet”.
- triage – during a medical emergency or disaster, the process of determining the priority of medical treatment or transportation based on the severity of the patient’s condition.
- venue(e) – an invited man/woman for a show, or “one who has come”.
- vis-à-vis -lit. “face to face [with]”: in comparison with or in relation to; opposed to.
- vive la différence! lit. “[long] live the difference”; originally referring to the difference between the sexes; the phrase may be also used to celebrate the difference between any two groups of people (or simply the general diversity of individuals).
- voilà! – lit. “see there”; in French, it can mean simply “there it is”; in English, it is generally restricted to a triumphant revelation.
Examples of French words and expressions of love or sensuality now used in English:
- décolletage – a low-cut neckline, cleavage.
- derrière – lit. “behind”: rear, buttocks.
- femme fatale – lit. “deadly woman”: an attractive woman who seduces and takes advantage of men for her personal goals, after which she discards or abandons them. It extends to describe an attractive woman with whom a relationship is likely to result, or has already resulted, in pain and sorrow.
- liaison – a close relationship or connection; an affair.
- lingerie – a type of female underwear.
- ménage à trois – lit. “household for three”: a sexual arrangement between three people.
- negligée – A robe or a dressing gown, usually of sheer or soft fabric for women.
- risqué – sexually suggestive or daring.
- voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir) – Do you want to sleep with me (tonight)?” or more appropriately, “Will you spend the night with me?”
- voyeur – lit. “someone who sees”. A person who enjoys watching sexual activity.
And of course, where would we be without a French kiss!