Singer Rihanna is annoyed that people are saying there’s a grammatical error in her French tattoo. What do you say?

via The Sun

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6 Responses to We’ll be nice and say “poetic license”

  1. She should have checked with a Français first!

  2. Roderick says:

    I say that, in French, the adjective comes before the subject all the time in poetry and other artistic contexts, so I don’t see what the fuss is about. The same is true in Spanish and Italian.

  3. Martin says:

    I’m an editor and a student of French. She might have flown me to New York on a private jet before committing to this folly. We could have discussed. If she meant for both words to function as nouns, as she claims, then the phrase as tattooed is correct. It is a simple de jure translation of the two nouns into French. However, it is likely that she intended the word “rebel” to function as an adjective. In that case, what we have here is a bad example of literalist translation. She should have taken more liberty and found the approppriate French colloquial equivalent–which might not have been so pretty–or some phrase from Rimbaud.

  4. Roderick says:

    @Martin, I still don’t get why you think this is folly. I agree that it’s not an idiomatic phrase or expression. But you can find examples in Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Verlaine where the adjective is regularly placed before the noun for artistic effect.

    Indeed, as Michèle Morris writes in “Mieux écrire en français” (Georgetown University Press), placing the adjective before the known is perfectly permissible “pour réaliser des effets de style, pour mettre en valeur certains qualificatifs, on modifie la place normale des adjectifs : . . . Les secs rameaux qui pendaient se balançaient au vent. (Plus poétique que : les rameaux secs . . .)”.

    Even Wikipedia, of all places, recognizes that French adjectives are often placed before the noun for semantic effect, particularly in abstract or metaphorical constructions, as is the case in the tattoo in question.

    “Considérations d’ordre sémantique

    Une position inhabituelle permet également d’attirer l’attention, non seulement sur la forme, mais aussi sur un sens particulier de l’épithète déplacée.

    C’est ainsi que d’une manière générale, une épithète en position habituelle conservera son sens propre, primitif, littéral, tandis qu’en position inhabituelle, cette même épithète se verra affectée d’un sens dérivé, figuré (très souvent métaphorique) et plus abstrait :

    Un appartement sombre / une sombre histoire.
    L’épithète « sombre » habituellement postposée, signifie peu lumineux (sens littéral, concret). En antéposition, elle signifie alors, dramatique et embrouillé (sens métaphorique, abstrait).

    Une chemise sale / une sale journée.
    L’épithète « sale » habituellement postposée, signifie le contraire de propre (sens littéral, concret). En antéposition, elle signifie alors, mauvaise (sens métaphorique, abstrait).

    Sa maison propre / sa propre maison.
    L’épithète « propre » habituellement postposée signifie le contraire de sale. En antéposition, il renforce l’adjectif possessif « sa ».

    Un petit geste de la main / un geste petit.
    L’épithète « petit » habituellement antéposée, signifie de dimensions réduites (sens littéral, concret). En postposition, elle signifie alors, mesquin (sens métaphorique, abstrait).”

  5. Martin says:

    I’m just a student of French and not an expert (although I’m aware there are many instances in which placing the adjective before the noun is acceptable). I continue to maintain however that it’s folly to tattoo a phrase or anything else on one’s neck. Further, I offered to be flown to New York in a private jet only to discuss, not necessarily correct. Unfortunately for Rihanna, any French comments I have been able to find consider the phrase to be simply incorrect and not realized for any effect of style. I searched for the text itself, finding only this,
    which veers toward your argument, in that it is found in a poem, however one written by an internet poet who is known to us only by his handle “Rossignoldorient”. Am I wrong in this? I somehow doubt Rihanna grasped this phrase out of thin air. But then, being a creative person, she might have liked the indisputably correct phrase “belle fleur” and concluded that “REbelle fleur” would work just as well.

  6. Francophilia says:

    she might have liked the indisputably correct phrase “belle fleur” and concluded that “REbelle fleur” would work just as well.

    @Martin – That’s a good point. And I like the idea of it too. You should let her know your interpretation. I wonder if we’ll ever know the truth!

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