« Scrabble letter scores | Main | If Houses, Why Not Mouses? »

January 19, 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Unfortunately, a French J is pronounced "gi" as in "Gigi", so "Ja" does not work.

In the version I was told, the conversation was reversed:

- G a.

- Venez sous p à 100 sous ci.

Virtual Linguist

Thanks for your comment, Mark. I copied and pasted the above pun from another site, but I've just been back to my diary to look at the copy I made from the exhibition at Sanssouci Palace recently. I wrote down 6 over 100 and not Si, and I also wrote a space between the J and the a, which is what was exhibited in the palace. Otherwise it was displayed in the order I have in the post. Of course, that may be just how they have chosen to display it.

As for the pronunciation of French J, in Voltaire's time the pronunciation was 'je', according to the 1762 edition of the French Academy's dictionary. The entry for J reads:
J substantif masculin La dixième lettre de l'Alphabet, qu'on appelle abusivement J consonne, & que dans l'appellation moderne on nomme Je; de sorte que l'on dit aujourd'hui un J, en le prononçant comme la dernière syllabe du mot Ange.

Here's the link:

Of course, that's not quite the 'j'ai' sound required for the message.

This 1762 edition of the Dictionary (the 4th) was the first edition where the letters i and j were separated out as two separate letters. Previously, i and j words had appeared together in the same section (as they did in Johnson's famous English dictionary of 1755, too).

Marc Leavitt

As an inveterate punster, I've always
enjoyed making them. I find them good descriptive shorthand, and to paraphrase Robert Browning, "Man's reach should exceedd hjis grasp, else what's a metaphor?"

Virtual Linguist

Thanks, Marc. I was interested to read that line of Browning's.

Florian Blaschke

The interpretation of "P/1" as "à souper" strikes me as patently nonsensical, when the obvious interpretation of the formula as given is "Un souper à Sanssouci?". There is, however, a variant circulating which has "P/A", where this reading would be natural. Moreover, a more elegant variation has "6/100". The variant "Ja!" (with or without a blank, perhaps originally only a small blank), with its Bilingual Bonus (which is entirely à propos given that Frederick was in Prussia), or rather Stealth Pun, is far superior to "G a". All in all, the version that strikes me as most convincing is "P/A à 6/100?" – "Ja!"

Florian Blaschke

A correction – what Browning really wrote was: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp / Or what's a heaven for?" It was Marshall McLuhan who metamorphosed this into "A man's reach must exceed his grasp or what's a metaphor?" I wonder if McLuhan intended this to read alternatively as "what's a matter for", or if his pun was not this deep.

Virtual Linguist

Thank you for your informed comments, Florian.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner