Everyone Is Jumping Off the Brooklyn Bridge

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Qu'est-ce que c'est?

"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" is French for "What is it?"  This phrase is particularly notable as part of the chorus to the Talking Heads song "Psycho Killer".  Or not.

See, there seems to be a minor dispute depending on your source.  Some say "qu'est-ce que c'est", but others say "qu'est que c'est" (omitting the "-ce").  Few sources acknowledge the difference, but at least one suggests the former to be the correct one.  (Somewhat ironically, the title of the thread is the latter one.)

There's also a slight translation dispute: Some sources say that the phrase means "That is that it is".  However, these sources generally omit the "-ce", and, if Babelfish is to be believed (and it isn't always), that is the correct translation with the "-ce" missing.

According to one source (which uses the "qu'est que c'est" version), the rest of the French lyrics are translated as follows:

Ce que j'ai fait, ce soir la (what I did, that night)
Ce qu'elle a dit, ce soir la (what she said, that night)
Realisant, mon espoir (fulfilling, my hope)
Je me lance vers la gloire (I go for the glory)

I'm not particularly well-versed in French or it's pronunciation, but we can try to apply a few basic rules from Wikipedia's article on French:

  1. Final single consonants, in particular s, x, z, t, d, n and m, arenormally silent.
    This strips the words down to "Qu'es-ce que c'es?"

Okay, I guess that was the only rule we're going to apply.  Listening to David Byrne singing the lyrics, it sounds to me like "kess keh see" (notice that I don't hear the "-ce" myself), but I can't claim to have a trained ear for French.

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