Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Allez vous-en

Allez vous-en!

This phrase comes from Cole Porter's song of the same name from the musical Can Can, written in 1953. The 1960 film of the musical starred Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra, Louis Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier and introduced Juliet Prowse. Can Can, bien sur, is the French dance with high kicking women in skimpy outfits that was often performed in the night clubs of 1890 Montmartre on the outskirts of Paris.

The curious Francophile wonders why -en is attached to the pronoun vous. Normally -en is used as an adverbial pronoun meaning "some," "any," or "one," but here it must mean something a little different. Cole Porter writes the phrase to mean "Go Away!"


French Object Pronouns Word Order

Why, the curious reader wonders, is word order so darned important in French? In English we pretty much stick direct and indirect objects anywhere depending on how we want to make the point.

I gave him the ball.
I gave the ball to him.
I was standing in the middle of Yankee Stadium, and I gave him a ball signed by Babe Ruth while a crowd of thousands cheered on.

The French, it seems, are sticklers for word order, reminding me of the oft repeated phrase:
"It is not so much what you say in French, but how you say it."

The word order for French object pronouns, both direct and indirect, is as follows:

Subject, direct object, indirect object, verb.

  Je le lui donne, Je le lui donnais, Je le lui ai donné -
  I am giving it to him, I gave it to him, I gave it to him.

With dual construction verbs, put the object pronouns before the second verb.

Je dois lui parler. - I have to talk to him/her.