Moi, Doute

August 3, 2007 at 3:20 pm | Posted in backstory, vie quotidienne | 12 Comments

I have to bring your attention today to Aralena’s fascinating post on the pronunciation of the word août, meaning the month of August. Apparently, and totally unbeknownst to me, there has been centuries’ worth of debate on the pronunciation of this little word, even dragging such big names as Victor Hugo and Voltaire into the fray.

In fact, there are not merely two competing pronunciations for août, but actually four:

[ou] (the apparently “correct” version)

As for me, I’ve been saying [out], with an audible T, ever since I was a kid. I’m not sure why, I guess that’s how I must have heard it the first few times. But to think, all these years I have been straining my ears to hear how real French people really say things, so I can copy them and not look like an ass — only to find out that they’re just as clueless as I am!

And it’s not like this is a really rare word, that you might see in print from time to time, but rarely hear in conversation. It’s the freaking month of August! People say it all the time, and only just now are they reaching a consensus on the word?

As a foreigner in this country, every day I devote myself to listening and noticing how things are properly done. I suppose my hope was continually to improve, until one day I could speak the perfect, impeccable French of a native. How humbling, then, is it to find that French is a slippery, imperfect beast — perhaps not quite as untamed as English, but still negotiated and insecure.

Which brings us to another question — will I, after all these years of listening and copying, change my pronunciation because the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel says so? Eh bien… I think not. Maybe I’m set in my ways, or maybe I have issues with authority. Or maybe it makes me a little proud to think that, if I’m wrong, at least I’m only as wrong as real French people.

*Obviously, these pronunciation guides were written with French people in mind, not Anglos, so in this case “out” means “oot”, not the way we usually pronounce the word out. Rhymes with toot.



  1. Stéph’s Grandma says mois d’oo. And I’m always, the soft month? Wôt?

    Maybe it’s an age thing?

  2. That’s possible, Jenn. It doesn’t really seem to be regional… Although maybe it’s hard to tell in a cosmopolitan place like Paris.

  3. Are the pronunciations regional/dialectical at all?

    This sort of thing fascinates me.

  4. The article I linked to suggests that it is, to some degree, a question of dialect. But I don’t think it’s quite that simple… Kind of like how one says apricot — everywhere I’ve lived in America, I’ve heard people say it both ways, so it can’t really be a regional thing. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious rationale behind it, other than people generally pronounce it the way their parents do.
    On the other hand, I think I say almond different from my mom, so who knows?

  5. The funny thing is that I think my pronunciation of août has changed over time, and I still don’t think I use only one way – whether or not I pronounce the “t” often depends on what mood I’m in or who I’m talking to and how they pronounce it.

  6. Amy, I LOVE LOVE LOVE your title to this post! What a perfect play on words. What is it about that little spark that goes off when something like this hits home and seems just right?!

    And you know what? I’ve never given this pronunciation a whole lot of thought — I was always hung up on “les haricots verts” and whether to make a liaison between the “s” of “les” and the “h” of “haricots”…

    Now I’m bummed because apparently I’ve been saying août *wrong* all these years — um, yeah, right! Sock it to ’em…

  7. Isn’t the H aspirated in haricot? Which means no liaison, I’m pretty sure.
    Isn’t it interesting that all of us here say it “wrong”, at least some of the time? I guess it’s pretty wide-spread.

  8. the different french accents (from varying regions) get me too. it’s hard to believe that someone from paris and someone from cannes can sound so profoundly different in their pronunciations.

  9. Excellent headline!!

    My biggest pronunciation shocker was learning that the “lys” in fleur de lys (see Aralena’s post for beautiful example thereof) is pronounced like the English word Lease. Not fleur de lee. That would make it a flower bed, I guess.

    I say oot. (I think)

  10. Ooh, Polly, I didn’t know that one either. Je me coucherai moins bete ce soir…

  11. All lies. REAL French people say Fructidor.
    Really, we all do. If you hear otherwise, they’re Enemies of the Revolution. Seems we’re crawling with them. (Voltaire has the benefit of chronology and Hugo came around toward the end of his life.)

    In fact, today is the first day of Fructidor.
    Primidi de 1re Décade, en fait.
    Bonne journée de la Prune.

    Go eat some plums.

  12. You say tomatoe, I say tomatoe!

    I like your thoughts on this debate, Amy, and have to say that if the Académie says that “out” is okay, well, we shouldn’t feel too duncey. I can attest to having attempted all 4 versions in earnest (a-out is just fun to say) and never an eyebrow was lifted. Like you, I more often than not settle on the “out” pronunciation. Indeed.

    Since neither of us are broadcast journalists, we can probably continue on with our provincial, dialectical “out” with impunity.

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