French Keyboards

I’m not the greatest typist and I’m not a perfect speller, even in English, but when I started my French learning journey officially in January 2015 I decided that I was going to try and use the proper accents when typing.

I found early on that you can get away with not using accents when typing French. The French online dictionaries still recognize a word even without the proper accents, however I knew deep in my heart that this would be taking a shortcut and if I let myself get away with too many shortcuts I was going to end up a really sloppy French learner.

So I found some PC shortcuts for typing French accents.



I found that there are really two different sets of [Alt]+ codes for typing French accents. One set involves holding down [Alt]+ and then typing four numbers .

The other involves holding down [Alt]+ and typing three numbers.

(I use to work in I.T. so I can kind of understand this. Geek programmers like reinventing the wheel  every time they design a car. This why each new version of Windows and Office are so completely different than the last. The Nerdy programmers don’t care if you have to spend a week retraining your entire staff each time there is an upgrade. And when we use to explain it to them in the  company that I worked for that it would be better if the new version had a similar look and feel to the last version, they just didn’t get it. So anyway there are two different sets of [Alt]+ codes for typing French accents {maybe more}).

The other day, I asked some French Friends how they typed French accents. The secret is that the French have a completely different Keyboard to the English speaking countries.

The French use what is called the AZERTY-keyboard. Whereas the English keyboard is often called the QWERTY keyboard because of the first six letters on the top line starting from the left. The AZERTY was named in the same way.

The letters are in a different order and the numbers key double as Accented Letter Keys. In fact, the default setting of the numbers keys on a French Keyboard are Accented Letters. In order to type numbers you must hold down the [Shift] key.

Road Testing French Lessons Online – Part I

In this segment, I will be testing different French learning systems. It is important to realize that what works for me may not work for others. The goal of my French learning is to speak and read French I want to be a “practical” French speaker that retains the language and not someone that passes a test on it to get a grade in school.

I’ve done a number of reviews on this page of different learning systems. You can find them in my past posts.

My two current systems that I use daily are;
duolingo-owlDuolingo French. (I have completed the Duolingo French system a few months ago, so currently I use it as a daily review.)

French Living Language calendar
I have a process where I review the French word and phrase of the day. This is a fun part of my day.

I will be starting my own French word of the day (Word du jour) mailing list very soon.

My daily dose of French.
My daily dose of French.

If you are interested in buying a Living Language calendar here is a link. Full disclosure I do make some money from affiliate links (in theory anyway) it does help me to keep this blog going. Thanks for your support.

Living Language: French 2017 Day-to-Day Calendar


This week we’re are going to look at Rocket French.

For the Rocket French website Click Here!


Rocket French

Today I’m looking at a new system called Rocket French. I found the Rocket French site online and they appear interesting.

The main presenter of the course is Paul who has a charming English accent. Paul introduces himself as having lived in France as a child. Paul claims to speak fluent French. (This is important. I’ll talk about French accents a little later.)

The other presenter is Claire. Claire is a native French speaker and she does most of the French speaking on the sight. Claire has a lovely and strong French accent when she speaks Engish and demostraight how to say things in both perfect French as well as in “street French” which can be a bit harder to understand.

So far so good. It’s important to learn from a native speaker, or at least someone who has known the language since they were a child. This course appears to have both.


Pardon me while I digress here for a moment.

Why is it that someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who have lived most of his life in the United States still has such a strong Austrian accent?

It’s because when we learn a language as a child we learn to listen for and make the little sounds that collectively create the language. I have lived in Australia for many years and yet still have an American accent.

I found out recently that the French have difficulty with the “Th” sound in “Thistle” although a French speaker can quickly learn to make the sound perfectly, it takes a bit longer for the sound to connect with the language center in their mind so that when they make the “th” sound it registers as important meaningful sound and now just a random noise.

There are sounds in French that English speakers have difficulty making. I’ll see if I can find more on this later.

I saw an interview once where Arnold Schwarzenegger said that he had accent reduction classes for years. His accent has been somewhat diminished however it is still quite strong. It should be pointed out that Arnold hasn’t let his accent get in the way of his success, and neither should you.

I must confess that I use to be a little impatient with people who spoke English badly. But now that I’ve seen how difficult it can be to learn a new language I feel a bit of admiration and even kinship with someone that speaks broken English. I can only imagine what I sound like when I speak French.

The Challenge

Rocket French offers a  free seven-day sample of the course. So I’m am going to test it out for seven days and see what I think.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve already tried the Pimsleur French (which was presented with American accents) which I tried very early in my French learning undertaking.

Pimsleur was one of the first courses that I bought online, however it was just an audio CD, (I also have the Audible version) and there was no written version of what I was saying.

I found myself wanting to see what the words look like. I think that I would do better with Pimsleur now that I have done Duolingo French for almost two years.

Duolingo is my favorite learning system so far. I started on 10 January 2015. But I think Duolingo has taken me as far as it can go. I’m out of vocabulary and am searching for a new system to take me to the next level.

Targets are important

I graduated high school hating the word “Goals” as I had a teacher that overused the word way too much. So we can replace it with “Targets”.

My Targets French Learning Target

(I stole this from TED talks. I am grateful. I think this ia great way of measuring personal improvement.)

In a hypothetical French Restaurant

  1. Be able to read the menu (in French).
  2. Be able to order from the menu in French.
  3. Be able to understand the waiter when he/she speaks to me in French.
  4. Be able to answer the waiter in return in French.
  5. Be able to listen to French conversation of the people around me.
  6. To be able to join in on the French conversations.

(My own targets)

  1. To be able to read Tintin in French
  2. To be able to read French Newspapers (online) in French.
  3. To be able to read a French book.
  4. To be able to watch French news and movies and understand them.
  5. To be able to hold a conversation in French with native French speakers.

I am starting this seven-day test and will report back on this post with my results.

This is the first language course road test I will have started (I plan to do more in the future) so I am not really sure on what criteria I will be judging the course on.

The real test will be if I like the course or not.

  • Will it work for me?
  • Is it something I can do daily and not get bored or frustrated with?
  • I hope that it’s something that I will look forward to, or at least not dread.

So there will be a Scale of “Dread” to “look forward to”.

  • Dread” being  Zero.
  • Look forward to” being Ten.

Day one – 21 November 2016

  • I like the sound of both Paul’s and Claire’s voices. There is a written thing version of everything they say so it is possible to follow them.
  • There is a written thing version of everything they say so it is possible to follow them.
  • Paul who is the narrator tries to keep the feeling of the lesson light and positive. (I know this may put some people off, but his he was cynical and uncaring no one would listen to him.)
  • I’m listening to the first lesson a few times and I’m saying the words with them. (I was listening on my laptop in a public place – down at the gym- so I’m pretending that I having a Skype conversation.) Not that I care what people think of me. I just think people will tune me out and leave me alone if they think I’m on a call. So I am repeating most of the dialog to myself in a mumble. The lady next to me is chatting away in her loudest tone of voice.

I’m looking forward to my next lesson.

Day Two – 22 November 2016

Learning the French alphabet.
Learning the French alphabet.

Today I looked at Rocket Lingo’s lesson dealt mainly with the Alphabet. This is something that I’ve been working on for some time. It’s not really covered in Duolingo. Knowing the French Alphabet is extremely important. The inner snob in me scoffs when thinking that I have to learn the alphabet again. However learning the alphabet teaches you all sounds that you need to make in learning French. It’s a good facial exercise as it helps you to develop the different facial muscles that you need to speak French. It also helps you develop an ear for the language.

The inner snob in me scoffs when thinking that I have to learn the alphabet again. However learning the alphabet teaches you all sounds that you need to make in learning French. It’s a good facial exercise as it helps you to develop the different facial muscles that you need to speak French. It also helps you develop an ear for the language.

Tip: The French use the same Roman Latin Alphabet that the English do. Most of the French letters are pronounce the same as they are in English. There are a handful of exceptions. The Vowels “e”, “i” have exchanged names in French for some reason. Also “g” and “j” have also exchanged names.

As a child I always thought that the “w” looked more like two “v’s” than two “u’s”. The French seem to agree with this and the “w” is called = “dooble vay”.

The last few letters of the French Alphabet.
The last few letters of the French Alphabet.

I didn’t know this before put the letter “y” was borrowed from the Greek alphabet. The French call it “ee-grayk” meaning the “i of the Greeks”.

The French an the British both call the letter “z” = zed.

Day four – 24 November 2016
I’m sorry I have been busy. I have kept up the language learning. I am quite enjoying Rocket French.

The creators of Rocket French seem to have thought of a number of things that have frustrated me with other courses in the past.

The conversation is broken down into parts.
(Screen Cap) The conversation is broken down into parts.

Often I get long conversations and then they are broken down. Rocket French does this as well. But then it has each part of the conversation on a separate line, where you are able to listen to the parts that you choose and play them separately without having to replay the whole conversation.

This is handy as often I find it’s only a few parts of a sentence that I need to work on.







A Poodle is a Poodle is a Caniche

What’s more French than a French poodle?

When one thinks about the cliché of Paris one often thinks of the Eiffel Tower and people wearing berets and carrying baguettes and walking poodles.

When one thinks about the cliché of Paris one often thinks of the Eiffel Tower and people wearing berets and carrying baguettes and walking poodles.

That’s why I was surprised to learn the other day that many French people don’t know what a poodle is. I spoke to a French person, who even owned a poodle, and they did not know what a poodle was.

“Poodle” is actually an English word.

In French “the poodle” is «le caniche» (pronounced kan-ish-a).

The caniche gets its names from “canard” (duck).

Duck = canard (kan-ard)

Dog = chien (she-awn) (remember chien, by thinking that a dog bites a the mailman on his shin.)

The Caniche/poodle were originally bred for hunting ducks.

As a duck-dog you can imagine that a caniche would love water. This is where the name “poodle”comes from.

Poodle is the Old English name and it comes from the word meaning “swimmer”. The word poodle comes from the same root word as puddle.

“Puddle” in French is «flaque» pronounced flack.

Prince Rupert and his Poodle.
Prince Rupert and his Poodle.

Famous Poodles of History

During the English Civil War Prince Rupert, who fought on the side of the king had a pet poodle named “Boye”.

* (Prince Rupert of the Rhine 1619 – 1682, was German, He was the nephew of King Charles I of England.)

In this drawing, you can see that Prince Rupert’s poodle looks more like a lion than a dog. The traditional hair cut of a poodle was based on that of a lion.

The traditional haircut of a poodle was intended to look like the mane of a lion.
The traditional haircut of a poodle was intended to look like the mane of a lion.
A drawing of a lion, looking more like a hound, from the Book of Kells. Created around 800 A.D.
A drawing of a lion, looking more like a greyhound, from the “Book of Kells”. Created around 800 A.D.

Lions are mentioned in the bible and the Roman and Greek texts, but I have often wondered if the people of Medieval Europe knew what a lion really looked like. Some of the early pictures from the “Book of Kells”, which was made around the year 800 A.D., the lions look more like greyhounds than big cats.

The Crusades may have changed things as many European soldiers traveled to the Middle East and North Africa and saw lions first hand. The first Crusade started in 1069 A.D.

Lion Rampant
Robert the Bruce’s pet lion on his Lion Rampant

After returning home from the Crusades many of the European kings even kept lions as pets in their own personal menageries.

King Robert the Bruce of Scotland (1274 – 1329) had a pet lion which appears on his Lion Rampant flag.

I guess for the common people, owning a poodle (or a caniche) would have been the next best thing to owning their own personal lion.

We own two cavoodles. A cavoodle is a cross-breed of a Poodle and a King Charles Cavalier – Spaniel. My daughter picked them out because I am somewhat allergic to dogs. The cavoodles are low allergic. I love dogs but our last dog I could not even pet without getting allergic.

Big Ollie and little Thistle having a nap in the sun shine.
Big Ollie and little Thistle having a nap in the sunshine.

It worked and I’m not allergic to Ollie and Thistle our two black cavoodles.

I never saw myself as a person that would own a poodle, but these guys are great dogs. They are amazingly fast, they are also great jumpers and spend a surprising amount of time walking on two legs.

If they want to see over or on top of something they stand on two legs, unsupported and can walk around like this. This isn’t a trick that they have been taught. (I wonder what Charles Darwin would say about this.)

I have been in the park and met other dog owners including purebred poodle owners. A full-size poodle has almost the exact build as a greyhound.

I’m no expert but when you see a full size poodle and a greyhound stand side by side they both have the same rounded chest and slim hips and long legs (see the picture of Ollie the larger of the two cavoodles above). They also have the same pointed upturned nose of a greyhound. And both breeds have long thin tails.  Poodles, in my opinion, are basically greyhounds with afros.

Their personalities seem to change with every hair cut. Where the dogs that I have had in the past have always had hair that didn’t need to be trimmed  poodles (cavoodles) doesn’t shed. Which is good for allergies, however, their hair just keeps growing.

Our cavoodles have had some very interesting experiments in hair styles. We tried the more traditional poodle styles on Ollie. Which made my daughter and me break into laughter when we picked him up at the dog groomer.

Ollie had changed so much! It was as if our happy little puppy was suddenly appearing on a Paris catwalk.

Ollie had the shaved nose which made him look a little stuck up. And he had shaved paws which made him look like he was wearing gloves and a puffy shirt.

Ollie with his Teddy Bear style hair cut.
Ollie with his Teddy Bear style hair cut.

Ollie now gets what is known as the Teddy bear look. The hair on his snout is left a little longer and cut rounder.

We don’t go to the dog groomer anymore as it’s cheaper if I do it myself.



“I, Claudius” & “Claudius the God” Book Review

We are slowly working are way through French history. In the last blog post we looked at Julius Caesar conquest of Gaul. This time we are looking at politics and drama in the house of Caesar and how the Roman Emperors that came after Julius Caesar affected the fate of Europe.

In this review we will be looking at “I, Claudius” (1934) “Claudius the God” (1935) By Robert Graves.

Claudius did not consider himself to be a Frenchmen, largely because France or the French did not really exist until about 500 years after his death, however the man who would one day be Emperor of Rome was born in what would one day be Lyon, France, which in Claudius’s day was called Lugdunum in Gaul.

Original covers
The original covers of “I Claudius” and “Claudius the God”

Claudius the God



Claudius’s father was a general in the Roman army who was at the time of Claudius’s birth, engaged in military activities with the Gauls. The book “I, Claudius” is an excellent introduction into the ancient Roman world. France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and Briton were still barbaric lands that the “civilized” Romans were in the process of colonizing. Meanwhile in Rome the first family of the Caesars played a deadly game of not so civilized house politics.

Based on historical sources “I, Claudius” is a partly fictionalized, or should I say dramatized, account of the early history of four Roman Caesars.

After reading I, Claudius I went back and read many of the original source books (in English). These include works on Roman history by Tacitus, Plutarch, and especially Suetonius, who wrote “The Lives of the Twelve Caesars.”

Written from the point of view of Claudius (Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; 10 B.C. – 54 A.D.) who for most of his life was believed to be the family fool.

Graves said that he was inspired to write the book after Claudius came to him in a Dream and demanded that he write the true version of his life. Claudius had been dismissed by many historians as a halfwit but as the Caesar Claudius did more for Rome than the two Caesars before him and the one that followed after him combined.

Augustus Caesar
Augustus Caesar

The book starts in the mid-point of Augustus Caesar’s reign*. As Augustus and his wife Livia rebuild Rome from the ravages of past civil wars (Rome had three civil wars, The last one was between Augustus and Mark Anthony and left Augustus in power in Rome)

*Augustus Caesar lived 63 B.C. to 14 A.D. and was Emperor of Rome from 27 BC to 14 A.D.

Augustus is married to Claudius’s grandmother Livia. Livia is a master in the art of politics, manipulation, revenge and murder. It is Livia along with Augustus that transform Rome from a republic to a dictatorship.

Caligula Caesar 12 A.D to 41 A.D.

The book gives great insight into the politics of power in the ancient world through the problematic years of Tiberius and the deadly years of Caligula. Whose name meant “little boots” in Latin.

For as a child Caligula traveled with his father who was the general of the army. Caligula had his own mini-version of the soldier’s uniform including little sandal-boots known as “caliga” that the soldiers wore.

In “I, Claudius” and the sequel “Claudius the God” writer and poet Robert Graves uses the modern place and country names in place of the old Latin names. So that the interested reader can easily find the places on a modern map.

imagesI, Claudius From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Born 10 B.C. Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 (Vintage International)

Robert Graves was an Oxford Don who was able to speak and read both Greek and Latin fluently. Graves was also a veteran of the trenches of World War One and saw Europe at one of its most barbaric stages.


Roman "swordsmen"
Roman “swordsmen”

Graves writes the book as if Claudius were writing in Greek. The Romans spoke Latin, but upper class “educated” Romans wrote and spoke Greek to each other. This device give Graves and excuse to translate and explain such common Latin words as “gladiator” into their real meanings; (Latin for sword is “gladio” a “gladiator” is a “swordsman”).

This device gives Graves a chance to explain some of the hidden meanings of many Latin based words that are still in use today.

This is an excellent book for those who wish to understand the early formation of Europe and the Roman Empire. France (Gaul) was considered to be part of the Roman Empire in Claudius’s day. As were Germany and Spain and eventually Briton. In the second book “Claudius the God”, Claudius leads a military expedition to conquer Briton.

“I, Claudius” is a great historical work, the times and dates are accurate and based on pains taking research. The characters are fresh and vivid and the politics are credited with having many other writers who came after Graves. (Fans of George R.R. Martin may notice certain similarities between “I, Claudius” and the “Game of Thrones”.)

Robert Graves; 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985)
Robert Graves; 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985

Robert Graves was the son of an Irish poet and a German mother. He attended an English school where he was beaten up almost daily because of his parentage. Graves finally joined the boxing team and was given some respite from the constant bullying. He served in World War One achieving the rank of Captain and return to England to live and work at Oxford University. Where he became friends with T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia).

Graves finally moved to the Spanish island of Minorca in the Mediterranean where he spent the rest of his life as a poet and writer.

Written at age 34, Graves autobiography.
Written at age 34, Graves autobiography.

In Spain Graves wrote a biography called “Good-Bye to All That” (1929). Graves suffered from bullies at boarding school and then with the start of the first World War he is shipped off to France where he gives a first hand account of life in the trenches.

Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography

Julius Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul; Book Review


519fas41zwl-_sx322_bo1204203200_“The Conquest of Gaul” (Penguin Classics)
By Julius Caesar
with Jane P. Gardner (Editor, Introduction),
S. A. Handford (Translator)
The Conquest of Gaul (Penguin Classics)




One of the first books ever written (or in this case dictated) about that land we now know as modern France.

Julius Caesar’s “The Conquest of Gaul” was originally named in Latin “Commentarii de Bello Gallico” (Commentaries on the Gallic War).

Gaius Julius Caesar Born 13 July 100 B.C. – died 15 March 44 B.C.
Gaius Julius Caesar Born 13 July 100 B.C. – died 15 March 44 B.C.

The French language as we know know it is classified as a Romance language, that is a Roman Latin based language. Julius Caesar was the Roman that first brought the Latin language to Gaul.

Brennus demands his spoils of the battle, by Paul Jamin, 1893.
Brennus demands his spoils of the battle, by Paul Jamin, 1893.

To set the story up the Romans were terrified of the Gauls.  A number of Gallic tribes of very large and very fierce warriors had attacked and sacked Rome in 390 BC. These tribes were led by a chieftain named Brennus. This is according to the accounts of the Roman historian Livy (Titus Livius who lived 64 B.C. to 17 A.D.)

Livy: The Early History of Rome, Books I-V (Penguin Classics) (Bks. 1-5)

These Gaulish invaders looted Rome and burned parts of the city to the ground. All Roman records before this date were destroyed. In fact in Livy’s own words he points out that the earlier stories of Rome, such as Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she wolf, were more legend than fact.* After the Gaulish invasion 390 BC official records were again kept. All the factual Roman history starts from this date.

* Trivia: I read that She-wolf was a nick name for a prostitute
This can be confirmed on Google Translate – She-wolf = lupa.
(‘lupa’ also translates as = whore, prostitute, she-wolf, harlot.)

After recovering from this almost catastrophic defeat Rome made preparations in case the Gauls ever returned. Money in the form of bars of silver and weapons were set aside should the Gauls ever attack Rome again. A Governor was sent North of the Alps with Roman soldiers to watch for signs of amassing armies marching towards Rome.

There is a story from the time when the Gauls where occupying Rome. The Gauls who were taller than the Romans also seemed fearless. When asked if there was anything that they were afraid of the reply was, “We fear only that the sky would fall on our heads.”

Asterix the Gaul
Asterix the Gaul

It’s hard to know what this meant exactly. Was this some sort of boastful banter? Or was this a real fear of lightning or some forgotten encounter with a meteor shower.

Those of you familiar with the French cartoon “Asterix the Gaul” by René Goscinny (stories) and Albert Uderzo will recall that the fearless Gauls in the comic strip are often afraid of the sky falling on their heads.

Asterix the Gaul: Album 1

In the cartoon series Asterix the Gaul lives in the time of Julius Caesar.

Fighting cocks depicted on an ancient Roman m
Fighting cocks depicted on an ancient Roman mosaic.

The word Gaul or Gallus in Latin translates as = cock, rooster, or Gaul.

The Gauls were often said to have strutted with pride like a rooster. Roosters are fierce animals who will hold there own against larger farm animals including dogs. Most Roman soldiers were farmers and would have known firsthand about the fighting prowess of roosters.

For two centuries the Roman’s fear that the Gauls would return sack Rome a second time.

"Marius the Great Amid the Ruins of Carthage" by John Vanderlyn
“Marius the Great Amid the Ruins of Carthage” by John Vanderlyn

It was Julius Caesar’s uncle, who was the famous Roman military and political leader known as Marius the Great (Gaius Marius 157 BC – January 13, 86 BC) that first realized that the Gauls could be defeated. Marius had helped to re-invent the new Roman army. Marius had plans not only to invade Gaul but to give the Gaulish lands to his soldiers when they retired. Thus forming new Roman colonies, expanding the size of Rome and securing its borders.

The politics in the Republic of Rome at this time were all about the power of family clans. This plan would have made the Marius family the most powerful clan in Rome, with all these new colonies owing Marius’s family their allegiance. Thus the idea of Roman colonies in Gaul was prevented by Sulla (Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix 138 BC – 78 BC) the patriarch of a rival clan.

Civil war broke out and in Rome between Marius and Sulla. Sulla and Marius hated each other for years. They had served together as co-elected leaders of the Roman Republic and had bickered endlessly.

It was Sulla who won the Civil war and the Young Julius Caesar was forced to flee when Sulla marched his Roman legions on Rome. (Marching ones legions on Rome was a violation of one of Rome’s most sacred laws, and a law that Caesar would himself violate one day.)

Later when Sulla died Caesar was able to return to Rome and restart his political and military career.

The real Reason Rome invaded Gaul

Gaulish gold coin dating to the time of Caesar's invasion.
Gaulish gold coin dating to the time of Caesar’s invasion.

Oxford historian Terry Jones points out in his 2002 documentary series “The Surprising History of Rome” that there may have been another reason the Romans suddenly considered Gaul worth invading.

Jones (who was also a former member of Monty Python) points out that Gaul was full of gold. Gaulish coins from this period where made from gold while Roman coins were all minted from cheaper metals.

Caesar’s Book

“The Conquest of Gaul” was written towards the end of Caesar’s life. In fact the last chapter had to be finished by someone else after Caesar was murdered.

The story of the Conquest of Gaul takes place in the years after Caesar came back out of hiding and worked his way up the social and political ladder to where he himself was elected Consul of Rome. After a year in the top job Caesar was offered the Governorship of Gaul in 57 BC. Caesar was around the age of 43.

In 57 BC the Gauls were not yet a conquered people. So Caesars main job was to keep an eye on the natives and make sure that they didn’t amass into an army that could march on Rome.

Caesar had under his command three Roman legions. (A typical legion of this period had 5,120 legionaries). These were some of the best trained and best disciplined soldiers in the world at that time.

Map showing the unknown land of Gaul as compared to the location of Rome. 57 B.C.
Map showing the unknown land of Gaul as compared to the location of Rome. 57 B.C.

This is where the book “The Conquest of Gaul” begins. Caesar has just become the Roman Governor of Gaul. Caesar sees a large number of Gauls, from a tribe known as the Helvetii, immigrating to other lands. Caesar uses this amassing of the Helvetii as a provocation to attack.

Caesar won a quick victory. Caesar, as all generals of his day he was quick to send news of his victory back to Rome. Caesar’s whole life has wanted to be known as a great general.

Pompey the Great
Pompey the Great

In his youth his hero was Alexander the Great. His mentor was his uncle Marius the Great. Because of Caesar’s family being on the losing side of the Civil war military rank had long been denied him and he watched his friend and rival Pompey become known as Pompey the great (Gnaeus Pompeius 106 BC – 48 BC).

Caesar later befriended Pompey the Great and Pompey married his daughter. Pompey was considered to the the greatest general that Roman had ever had. But now suddenly Caesar had won a military victory against Rome’s most feared enemies, the Gauls.

Caesar had tasted military victory he wanted more. Caesar begins to pick fights with the many different tribes throughout central Europe, in what is now France, Belgium, Germany, and even Britain. Some of the friendlier tribes Caesar hired as auxiliaries. Also traveling with Caesar’s army was a group of slaver merchants whom Caesar sold prisoners of war, including women and children, to.

War was a great business, Caesar not only maked money from slaves but the towns that he conquered were looted for gold. Often whole towns were burned to the ground and the population exterminated by Caesar and his men. When the news spread to the other villages in Gaul towns paid Caesar tribute to avoid a battle.

Caesar and the Parisii

Paris, the Island of the city as it would have looked to Julius Caesar.
Paris, the Island of the city as it would have looked to Julius Caesar.

Caesar’s conquest even took him to Paris which in those days (52 B.C.). Paris was known then as “Lutetia Parisiorum”, (Lutetia of the Parisii ) The Parisii being the original tribal name of the people in the area. Now called the ‘Parisians’.

Luteitia in 52 B.C. consisted only of the area in Paris now known as  “Ile de la Cité”, (Island of the City) which is the island in the Seine where Notre Dame is now located.

Caesar made his camp on the left bank overlooking the Ile De la Cité, the area that would later become to be known as the Latin quarter.**

**(The Latin quarter got its name during the Middle Ages from the fact that it was the location of many different universities of higher learning where Latin was spoken).

Caesar’s conquest of Gaul was very simply written and in such pure and elegant Latin. The book still remains in print today more than two thousand years later. It is used both as a text book in Latin language training and as a book of military strategy.

There have been many different translations of Caesars conquest of Gaul into English over the years. The book is a must read for anyone wanting to start at the beginning of the history of France.

“The Conquest of Gaul” is followed by a second book by Caesar. “The Civil War” by Julius Caesar. Originally called  “Commentarii de Bello Civili” (Commentaries on The Civil War).

The Civil War is Caesar’s chronicle of the war between himself and Pompey the Great over the control of Rome.

Caesar was killed before finishing the last chapter of “The Civil War” and the work was completed by one of his friend Aulus Hirtius.
(Aulus Hirtius c. 90 – 43 BC, was a general under Caesar)

In Caesars day paper was expensive so notes were often written on wooden tables covered with bees wax. Shorthand notes were scribbled into the wax with a sharp metal stylus. It was with one of these stylus that Caesar was killed on the 15th of March 44 B.C.

Caesar’s invasion of Gaul was a brutal event. Costing the lives of thousands of people and causing thousands of others to be sold into slavery. But it was a brutal world. Before and after Caesar there where many warlords that acted even more brutally as Caesar. Caesar was just one of the very few to make a record of his conquests and war crimes.

Caesar’s conquests brought the Latin language into central Europe. The Romance languages; French Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian only really came into existence in their modern Latin based form because of the Roman conquests of over 2000 year ago.

French Quote Fingers

French quotation marks are called – guillemets.
Pronounced (gee-yee-may).
And they look like this – « ».

Quote fingers.
Anglo-American quote fingers are used in France.

I was surprised when my French friends said that the French use quote fingers (or air-quotes) in the same way that they are used by English speakers.

I think it’s time that the French should have their own quote finger sign, or should we say «guillemets des doigts».


French quote fingers.
Proposed French quote fingers.


Guillemets quote fingers will of course be easier for Star Trek fans to make.

I am thinking of creating a proposal for the Académie française, pertaining to the use of «guillemets des doigts» (quote fingers) or should they be called « guillemets de l’air »” (quotes of the air).

The Académie française (French Academy) is a council that deals with matters concerning the French language. They from time to time vote to make changes in French, recently removing an accent mark.

The Académie française was founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, whom you might recognize as the antagonist in the Alexander Dumas historical novel «Les Trois Mousquetaires» (The Three Musketeers).

There are forty members on the Académie française are called «les immortels» (the immortals) and hold their positions for life, or until they retire. They are the sort of supreme court of the French language.


I’m not sure how the Académie française would react to French air quotes. I’ve tried it out on a few of my French friends, none of whom are Star Trek fans, so they had difficulty making the signs. «C’est la vie.»


On PC’s the short cuts for guillemets are.

ALT + 174 = «

Alt +  174 = »

Mac short cuts for guillemets

 Option+Backslash = «

Option+Shift+Backslash = »





Adventures in Franglais – the State of Oregon

La syllabe perdue.
{The lost syllable.}

My home state of Oregon was in the news earlier this year when a group of militia from bordering state Nevada crossed the border. A number of mèmes began to appear on the internet comparing a pentagon, hexagon, octagon to Oregon. There is even an add online for a T-shirt with the Pentagon, hexagon Oregon joke. But somehow I don’t think many people in Oregon will have bought the T-shirt.

Statue of a man with an umbrella in Portland.
Statue of a man with an umbrella in Portland.

It’s not that we Oregonians can’t laugh at ourselves. It’s just that the joke doesn’t make sense in Oregon.

The problem with this joke is that it only really works on the East Coast where Oregon is pronounced with three syllables “or-re-gone”. On the west coast “Oregon” is pronounced with two syllables “ore-gun” or “ore-gin” (with a hard ‘g’). Hexagon just doesn’t rhyme with ore-gin.

The extra syllable used to confuse me. I’d watch the news or a talk show from New York and hear about a place called “Or-re-gone” which seemed strangely failure and yet I couldn’t quite place it. It sounded like some kind of Italian spice or something. But then I’d realize it was Oregon with an extra syllable.

The hidden message in the title spells out CAT.
The hidden message in the title spells out CAT.

One of my favorites movies is to “To Catch a Thief” in which Carry Grant, a retired cat-burglar John Robie In the movie John Robie pretends to be from Portland Oregon. I still remember the commercial advertising when “To Catch a Thief” was going to play on a Portland TV station as the movie of the week. The commercial was a montage of Grant, who was from Manchester England and had a very charming blend of English and American accent, had a very unique pronunciation of Portland, Oregon that was all his own.

No one is quite sure where the name Oregon comes from. It’s not a Native American name. It is believed to be Anglicized French.

With respect to the Native peoples that had been living in the Pacific North West, Oregon it seems was first made known to the rest of the world by explores that traveled by ship to the Pacific Ocean.

Many of the early explorers were Spanish and British.  Spanish explorer sighted what would later be named Oregon in 1543. In 1579, Sir Frances Drake sheltered in Oregon’s Nehalem Bay (85 miles {137 Km} west of where Portland would one day be located). In 1778 Captain James Cook also explored the Oregon Coast.

The French exploration of Oregon is harder to track. There is evidence of a French Canadians leaving behind French place names; Malheur River and Malheur Lake (Malheur is French for Misfortune).

In my teens I canoed down the Deschutes river. A river full of falls and rapids. I didn’t realize it then but Deschutes is French for “falls”.

Chances are the French Canadian explorers would have entered the state from the North or from the coast by ship. If you have ever been to the Oregon coast you will find it very very windy.

Windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge by Alex Kerney
Windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge by Alex Kerney

The Columbia River gorge up near Portland is considered to be one of the best wind surfing spots in the world because of the consistently high wind that blow in from the ocean.



Maverick - TV Series 1957–1962
Maverick – TV Series 1957–1962

“Wild as the wind in Oregon, blowin’ up a canyon, Easier to tame. Maverick is the name.”

Lyrics to the TV show Maverick
by Paul Francis Webster
(from New York)


The Maverick lyrics also confused me as a child as Oregon isn’t really known for its canyons. But I guess the Columbia River gorge could be a shallow canyon. But for a real canyon one needs to go east to Idaho’s Snake River canyon.

Most of the population of Oregon lives in the protective Willamette Valley formed by the Coastal and Cascade mountain ranges. We get a lot of rain but the mountains protect us from the winds that hammer the coast almost constantly.

Oregon doesn’t really have hurricanes. However it would be understandable that the early French explores who tried to sail up the Columbia River the wind seemed like a hurricane.

The French word for hurricane is «ouragan» pronounced ‘ore-a-gon ’.

And there it is the extra syllable!

It is believed by many that Oregon gets it’s name from the French word «ouragan».

Perhaps our friends on the East Coast aren’t mispronouncing the state’s name, they are just using an earlier pronunciation. For generations the extra syllable has been past orally from one generation to the next never changing.

Where as in Oregon, where people have to say the states name almost every day, to save time shortcuts have been taken and the middle syllable has been dropped like the final ”t” in Monet.

French Pirates

Probably the most famous French Pirate is Jean Lafitte ( c. 1780 – c. 1823). But there are a few others that you might recognize. Star Trek fans might recognize the name Captain Picard.

Pierre le Picard (1624–1679?) was a French pirate. He had worked with the famous Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan at one time before becoming the captain of his own pirate ship.

Pirates crews were quite often of mixed nationalities all speaking different languages. Pirate slag was developed to help crews understand a captain’s orders.

Before the creation of radios ship to ship communication was done with flags. This is why the command ship in a fleet was called the flag ship. Orders could be spelled out using a flag alphabet. However there were some flags that had special meaning, such as the red battle flag.

The red battle flag was the signal to attack. This was true for armies on land as well as at sea. Santa Anna’s army flew the red battle flag when they attacked the Alamo.

“By late afternoon Béxar was occupied by about 1,500 Mexican soldiers. When the Mexican troops raised a blood-red flag signifying no quarter, Travis responded with a blast from the Alamo’s largest cannon.”

From “The Battles and men of the Republic of Texas”
by Arthur Wyllie

It is believed the French pirates had a special name for the red battle flag calling it the «jolie rouge» or the “pretty red”. This was a very catchy name as and it soon was adopted even by the English speaking pirates who Anglicized jolie rouge to the name we know today; the “Jolly Roger”.

French Days of the Week

In this post we will have a quick look at the different French names of the days of the week. There is a strange link between the French and English names and perhaps knowing this link will help you learn the French day names.

Why Seven?

Why do we have seven days of the week? Why is it that the French and other countries that don’t speak English also have seven days in the week? Why is seven such a special number anyway?

In order to understand why seven is so important we have to look back a few thousand years ago, before the internet, TV, movies or even the radio. Back when people sat around campfires in the summer and looked up at the stars.

The sky at night is full of stars. Stars travel uniformly across the sky at night all going the same direction and at the same speed. The few exceptions the ancient Greeks named “wanderers” (in Greek planētēs.) We know them now as planets.

There are seven heavenly bodies that regularly appeared in the sky (and still do) and it is from these seven heavenly bodies that we get the days of the week. The Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn.

The first two, the sun and the moon aren’t technically planets under the modern revised definition of the word. And yet they don’t travel with the rest of the stars across the sky so they technically are wanderers under the original Greek meaning of the word.

The names of the days of the week were first introduced into Rome from Egypt in the 1st and 2nd century.

Getting to the point of this post. The days of the week are named after the planets and Greco-Roman gods. The days of the week in French are the French name variations of the Greco-Roman gods. The English (Anglo-Saxon Germanic) versions of the days of the week are actually Germanic translations of the Greco-Roman gods.

It was sometime before 700 A.D. that the Teutonic ancestors of the English renamed the days of the week after the Norse gods.

The French order of the Days

The week starts with lundi (Monday).

Most French calendars start with Monday as the first day of the week. The reason for this may be that in the Bible Sunday is seen as the day of rest which is the seventh day.

French do not capitalize the days of the week unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence.

The French days of the week all contain the syllable ‘di’. Which just means day. Sunday (dimanche) begins with ‘di’ and the rest of the French day names end with it.

Lundi = Monday

Georges Méliès as the Man in the Moon. From his 1902 movie «Le voyage dans la lune » "A Trip to the Moon"
Georges Méliès as the Man in the Moon. From his 1902 movie «Le voyage dans la lune » “A Trip to the Moon”

Lundi comes from “lune”, which is the French word for moon.

Trivia: French Musketeer Cyrano de Bergerac (1619 – 1655) wrote one of the first Science Fiction stories ever recorded about taking a trip to the moon.

The story was a political satire, and was called «Contenant les Estats & Empires de la Lune» “Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon”, and was published two years after his death in 1657. In the story Cyrano sailed to the moon in a sort of balloon. (The first hot air balloon was invented in France 1783.)

Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) wrote «De la Terre à la Lune» “From the Earth to the Moon” in 1858. Cyrano was truly ahead of his times.

Monday is a shortening of moon-day.

Mardi = Tuesday

Mars, the Roman god of war.

Mardi is named after the Mars the Roman god of war. Most Roman soldiers were also farmers so Mars was the god of both war and agriculture. Before Rome had a full time professional army the military season, for Roman farmers, began in October. After the harvest, the farmers went into training for war.

The Roman campaigning season ended in March (which is also named after Mars in both French and English). In March all the farmers could go back to their families. The month of March («mars» in French) is when most of the festivals of Mars were held.


Tyr god of war
Tyr god of war

Tuesday: is named after Tyr. Tyr was the Norse god of war. It is from “Tyr” that we get the word “Teutonic”.

Tyr had only one hand as his other hand was bitten off by a giant wolf named Fenrir. The wolf Fenrir was said to be the son of Loki, the trickster god.

The story goes that Tyr put his hand in Fenrir’s mouth while Fenrir was bound with unbreakable chains. Tyr lost his hand but was able to save the gods from Fenrir.

Mercredi = Wednesday
(This is a bit of a mismatch)


Mercredi: Is the day of Mercury.

Mercury is the son of Jupiter, from Jupiter’s affair with the daughter of Atlas. Jupiter’s wife Juno, the queen of the gods, was known for being very cruel to her husband’s bastard children.

Mercury never had a very high standing with the Olympic gods. He is the god of thieves and has the job of taking fallen soldiers to the fields of heaven.

The Roman heaven was called “Elysium” or the “Elysian Fields“. “The fields of {Roman} heaven” translates into French as «les Champs du Elysees». Which is the name of one of the most famous streets in Paris.


Wise Odin had only one eye. He sacrificed the other eye in exchange for knowledge.

Wednesday: is Wodin or Odin’s day. Odin of course was the father of the Teutonic gods. His Roman equivalent should have been Jupiter. However when Julius Caesar first traveled to Gaul and Germany he mistook the widespread worship of Odin as being worship of Mercury.

The ancient Romans believed that all other cultures worshiped the same gods that they did only under different names. When visiting (or invading) a new country a Roman would ask about the nature of the local gods. All gods were given duties, such as god of lightning, or god of the sea, etc. The Roman would then try and figure out which of these barbarian gods corresponded to the Roman gods.

In Teutonic mythology it is Odin that receives soldiers that have fallen in battle to Valhalla. This is why Caesar mistook Odin, who was the king of the gods with Mercury, a lesser servant god.


Jeudi = Thursday
(another mismatch)

Jupiter, King of the sky holds lightning bolts in his right hand.

Jeudi: is the day of Jupiter, who was sometimes called Jove. (“By Jove!”)

Jupiter is the Roman father of the gods and King of Olympus. He was also the god of Thunder.

Jupiter’s father was Saturn, whom he did not get along with. Saturn was afraid of his children and so he ate them when they were born.

Jupiter led a rebellion. Because Jupiter and his siblings were immortal they survived being eaten and were set free by Jupiter. They were then able to rule the world.

Thor on his chariot pulled by two goats.
Thor on his chariot pulled by two goats. The word Swedish word for “Billy-goat” is »getabock». Which also is used as an euphemism for “playboy” or “stud” in Ingmar Bergman movies. Thor has a two-stud powered set of wheels!

Thursday: is Thor’s day. Thor the son of Odin and his Olympic equivalent should have been Hercules. (Except Hercules was half human. So Hercules was only a demigod, while Thor was the son of the King and Queen of the gods.)

Thor may have been confused with Jupiter as Thor is also the god of Thunder.



Vendredi = Friday

Venus, goddess of love and ancestor of Julius Caesar, who reinvented the Roman Calendar.

Vendredi: is the day of Venus.

Venus is the goddess of love and was said to be the mother of a Trojan man named Aeneas. Aeneas survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy settling in the area which one day would be known as Rome. Aeneas was a founder of the Roman race. Julius Caesar claimed to be related to Aeneas and therefor Venus.

It should be pointed out that in French (and all the other Romance languages that assign gender to words) that the days of the week are masculine, even vendredi, despite being named after a goddess.

Freyja on her chariot pulled by two cats.
Freya on her chariot pulled by two cats. (She could be the goddess of the internet if she were around today.)

Friday: Friday may be named after one of two goddesses Frigg or Freya Whom may be the same goddess. No one is sure.

Frigg was the wife of Odin. Frigg was the patron of marriage and motherhood, love and fertility.

Freya had many of the same characteristic as Frigg but had a chariot pulled by two cats.

(In the movie “Thor” (2011) the thunder god asks a pet-shop owner if he has any dogs or cats that are big enough to ride.)


Samedi = Saturday

Saturn father of Jupiter
Saturn father of Jupiter

Samedi: Comes from the Latin words “dies Saturni”, it was Saturn’s day to the ancient Romans.

Saturn was the father of Jupiter. He was a Titian. Titians were the giants that came before the Olympic gods.

The scythe that Saturn holds may be inspired by the rings of Saturn which might be visible to the naked eye. (I’m not sure).

Saturday – is also named after Saturn.



Dimanche = Sunday

Sun emblem belonging to Louis XIV of France, the 'Sun King' (1638 - 1715)
Sun emblem belonging to Louis XIV of France, the ‘Sun King’ (1638 – 1715)

Dimanche: The name dimanche comes from its Latin name Dominica, Day of God or Day of our lord.

Sunday: day of the sun comes from the Latin “dies solis” which was the name of a Pagan Roman holiday. The day was renamed Dominica some time after Rome was converted to Christianity, by Constantine the Great (272 AD – 337 AD.)

French telephone numbers

This video is from the very clever people at Numberphile. I’m a big fan of Numberphile and only wish that I had teachers that made mathmatics this interesting when I was still in school.
Today Numberphile speakes to a French professor Dr Paul Smith from the University of Nottingham on the subject of French numbers.

When the French give someone their telephone number they tend to group the numbers into twos.

For example the number 555-1234-56789

This would be read as 55 51 23 45 67 89

cinquante et un