Quinzaine, and other mathematical oddities

Something tells me the French are not top of the class when it comes to maths. Don’t get me wrong – they’re a very intellectual bunch and frightfully creative in literature and art – but maths, not sure it’s their strong point. Exhibit 1: Their equivalent of a fortnight*, which as we all know equals 14 days, is the word ‘quinzaine’. Fine, I hear you shout. No, not fine. Look it up in the dictionary – in mine it says it means ‘fifteen (or so)’ – that is an exact quote. Fifteen or so?! Now hang on a minute. It’s all very well to be poetic and flowery about many things, and the French are good at that and I love them for it. But I really do think that when we’re talking numbers a little more precision can be helpful.

Exhibit 2: numbers above 69. Up to 69 things are good in French, straightforward, no messing about. But we hit 70 and life starts to get messy. You can’t just up and say 70, no, no, no, nothing so simple. You have to do a little sum. And it gets worse – hit 80 and you need to involve your 20 times table, for goodness sake. Which is ok I suppose once you get used to it. But then you reach 90 and things go really badly wrong. Because we’re getting into complex equations by this point. We have to do our 20 times table and then add something on to it. After many months of gnashing my teeth and wondering why we don’t move to Belgium or Switzerland, where they have got rid of soixante-dix, quatre-vingt and quatre-vingt-dix etc in favour of septante, octante/huitante, and nonante, I did start to accept it. But then I realised that even if you’re French and used to it, it’s a pain in the neck because you’re always having to cross things out and start again. Like when I dictate my phone number, which ends with 93, to some poor innocent taking down my details (and who is usually just getting over trying to decipher my address – see above). I start that part of the number by saying ‘quatre-vingt…’ and they diligently write down the 8, and then I pounce with the ‘treize’ and they have to sigh, cross out the 8 and replace it with a 9. And it happens every time, even when I try to talk so fast that they don’t have time to get that 8 down before the treize comes along.

Come on people – think how much time and money you could save by being colonised by Belgium!


*Actually to be fair, fortnight is not all that obvious as a term for two weeks either is it? Four nights? Case dismissed.


8 Responses to “Quinzaine, and other mathematical oddities”

  1. The problem with phone numbers is surely their illogical habit of dictating numbers in pairs, like 93, instead of one by one as we sensible English speakers do.

    p.s. have you come across the expression that somewhere is so messy that ‘une vache n’y trouverait pas son veau’?

    p.p.s. hope you do better than me at blogging, as if disgruntled hasn’t already said that…

    • Thanks Babymother. You are right – I am clearly more used to French phone numbers than I thought.
      Nice expression about the cow losing its calf (perhaps the calf was en route to Carrefour supermarket?). I tend to greet my cleaner with the expression ‘Comme un bordel’ when she arrives chez moi and appraises the general bomb site that the house has become since the week before.

  2. Actually, I’ve just thought of an upside. You can still be in your sixties long after you’ve turned seventy for a start – and then when you’re in your eighties, suddenly you’re in your twenties again

  3. You do know that a bordel is a whore house? Is Katy saying it yet?

  4. The cleaner will wonder how you know about Bordels

  5. And 90 makes you ten again. Vive le Sport!

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