What does the month of May have to do with the call of distress? Nothing really, it’s just an example of how words slip from one language into another. The distress call actually came from the French phrase, “m’aidez” which sounds similar to “mayday” and means – “Help me” in French.
English is full of French words. That’s because in 1066, William the Conqueror did what he was best known for and conquered England – and he just so happened to be a French-speaking man. For about 300 years, the language of the English court was French and all official documents were written in French. That’s why today about one third of English words are of French origin.
Languages are always evolving and the British and other English-speaking people have never been too bothered about foreign words cropping up in their own language. In fact, we rather welcome them.
The French, on the other hand, are quite protective of their native tongue and try to keep foreign words out. They have an official French Language Society (Académie Française), for the purpose of keeping their language pure and beautiful. This society isn’t a recent invention either, it was established way back in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu,
But, despite their best efforts, English words just keep popping up in the French language. Many of them keep their English meaning, such as weekend, meeting, and shopping, but other words that sound familiar to English ears, have a different meaning in French. The French seem especially fond of taking English words that end in “ing” – and changing their meaning in French.
For example, in France:
You park your car in a Parking (parking lot)
You wash your hair with Shampooing (which is pronounced something like shampwa)
To dry your hair you need a brushing (a blow-dry)
If you want a makeover, you get a relooking
To see if you are busy on a certain date, you check your planning (calendar / agenda)
If you are the sporty type, you put on your baskets (sport shoes) and your sweat (jogging suit – pronounced sweet) and go footing (jogging).
Sometimes however, just as we English-speakers do, the French interject a foreign word into their sentence just to sound cool!
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