Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Alouette des champs or sky lark
As kids we used to love to listen to my mother tell stories of her early 1930s high school, especially those about her French teacher's ticks, the most famous being that he would open his mouth so wide that his students could see his uvula. (But I don't think that that was the reason why the poor soul was one day carried away from school in a camisole de force by men in white coats.)

While telling a French friend, who is also a professor of German in a lycĂ©e, this encouraging anecdote (yes, there is a way out), I slipped up and with still another malapropism nearly brought his 18th century rafters down with laughter saying, "Il ouvrait une si grande bouche qu'on voyait son alouette."  He opened his mouth so so wide you could see his...oh good grief!

The French word for uvula, that funny soft fleshy thing that dangles at the back of the mouth, is luette, not alouette, which is that sweet little bird anyone learning French sings about.

I've yet to actually identify an alouette, so I could "officially" check it off in my Roger Tory Peterson's Guide des Oiseaux d'Europe, which incidentally was my very first book purchase as a landed resident in France. I hail from a family of birders so I was delighted to find that the familiar Peterson field book series existed for European birds. (In the bird world, the Peterson Identification System is considered the greatest thing since binoculars.) I pounced  on it at the fifth annual Salon du Livre back in 1985, which at the time was held in the not yet restored Grand Palais in Paris

Bibliophiles present in Paris might want to make note that the 2011 Salon du Livre will be held March 18-21 at the Porte de Versailles.

To listen to the long and varied chant of the alouette des champs, click here.

Expression: Le miroir aux alouettes is something which fascinates by virtue of its misleading appearance, and fools.  The expression's origin comes from a spinning, mirrored lure hunters used to place in fields to attract ground nesting alouettes

Vocabulary lesson
camisole de force: straightjacket
alouette: lark
oiseau(x): bird(s)
luette: uvula
chant: singing, song

©2011 P.B. Lecron

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