Café Crem

Art, Music and Words around The Coffee Table

Queer as folk

By Contessine

This title of an American television movie relating the love affairs of a gay community is very interesting in relation to the French idiomatic expression often written

« PD comme un phoque »

literally “queer as seal”. Even if the meaning of this last word in American and in French is different, I can’t help comparing the title with the French saying. First, Queer and PD designate, both in a pejorative way, the members of the homosexual community. Second, in the two cases, the expressions establish a comparison. And, the last but not the least, the nearly phonetic similarity between “folk” and “phoque” (seal) is obvious. But the true question remains : why a seal?
A simple look at the seal’s sexual behaviour gives no serious explanation. With the aim of justifying the apparently unfounded French expression, some attempt to find similarity between the two objects of the comparison : some saying that it is because the seal swims with his tail (for which the French translation (queue), in a vulgar way, hints too at the masculine sex); others because the animal, coming out of the sea, lets out a hoarse breath…These kind of cock-and-bull explanations don’t convince me. Too far-fetched! After all, why choose the seal when there are other animals much more representative of this way of life? Why not say, for example, queer as bonobos? Maybe because the Man (l’Homme) is descended from the monkey…
Another explanation, to my mind more convincing, is based on the phonetic oral confusion between phoque (seal) and foc (jib). So, referring to this sail which takes the wind from behind, the real expression would be: queer as jib (PD comme un foc). This error seems easier to explain. Orally conveyed, the expression has no indication about the way of writing a word which the phonetic structure refers to different meanings. Basically, the comparison is used with the intention of making a better mental representation of the compared object. In this way, everybody knows the word phoque (seal), but the so specific foc (jib) is not a part of common language.
Actually, the solution is not yet totally established, even if, come hell or high water, the second explanation is linguistically validated. At last, this French expression is really queer…on the both sides of the adjective. So, good riddance!


February 12, 2008 - Posted by | humor, life, men, movies, personal, Proverbs and Sayings, women, writing


  1. This is very interesting Contessine! The programme to which you refer was named after the Yorkshire saying “There’s nowt so queer as folk” meaning, “nothing so strange as people”.
    The series was orignally English, televised in 1999, and like so many good ideas, nicked by the Americans. I havern’t seen it, but if they did to it what they did to The Office, we can only mourn….

    Comment by kevmoore | February 12, 2008

  2. Come on Kevin, you English have nicked so many things from The French… England for example!

    Comment by Miki | February 12, 2008

  3. Yeah, and you tried to nick it back using a bloody Scotsman!! Infamy, Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!” (Kenneth Williams, Carry on Cleo)

    Comment by kevmoore | February 12, 2008

  4. Insider information:
    as he saw my comment Kevin shouted at me “I am cooking your bloody dinner and you are insulting me behind my back!”

    Comment by Miki | February 12, 2008

  5. Miki and kev, cool down! You are the perfect example of the possibility of peace between France and England (kind of traditional enemies in the far away past)… Don’t ruin that! (Kidding! I know you wouldn’t…)

    Contessine: I think that your solution: Pede comme une foc! (by the way le mot est IDENDIQUE in Romanian!) is very plausible (even if the words are kind of rare…) I can think also that sailors, by necessity queer from time to time, could have invented it! Est-ce qu’on utilise le terme tapette en France? ou c’est quebecois?

    Comment by iondanu | February 13, 2008

  6. There is a school of thought that the overly camp british comedic exclamation “Hello Sailor!” is actually derived from the French
    “A L’eau, C’est L’heure” meaning, to the water! it is time!

    Comment by kevmoore | February 13, 2008

  7. Wow contessine..what an intellectual analysis! I need more coffee to follow it, I think 🙂 But one thing I did pick up on were two expressions you used: “cock and bull story” (I refrain from making any puns here) and “come hell or high water”…I wonder where these come from?

    Comment by psychscribe | February 13, 2008

  8. Ah, psych, now we’re really getting into historical territory. The Cock and The Bull were two well known coaching inns, in Stony Stratford, England.
    they were a stopping off point on the journeys between london and Birmingham, and other trade routes via chester and North wales for Ireland. they were a favourite place for seasoned travellers to share gossip and stories-hence “cock and bull story” however there is another school of thought that postulates that the phrase originates from the french ” coq-a-l’ane” meaning from a cock to a donkey. There exists a scottish word “cockalayne” almost certainly phonetically derived from the french, which means “a tall tale, satire, or rambling story” PHEW! Betcha wished you’d never asked! 🙂

    Comment by kevmoore | February 13, 2008

  9. ..of course, the cock and bull could so easily be referring to France and England….

    Comment by kevmoore | February 13, 2008

  10. Amazing, Kev, the wealth of knowledge of this group 🙂

    Comment by psychscribe | February 13, 2008

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