Excuse my French in old phrase book

JE ne comprends pas!This book of “useful” phrases translated into French appears to be a little outdated.

Richard Smith

JE ne comprends pas!

This book of “useful” phrases translated into French appears to be a little outdated.

With sayings such as “the peasant of whom I have spoken to you” or “the savages were armed with bows and lancers”, it doesn't offer a great deal of help to a modern day student or tourist.

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But a modern languages teacher who unearthed the late 19th century phrase book in a charity shop found it fascinating - and is now hoping a new version will attract a cult following.

Peter Taylor, head of modern languages at Debenham High School, spotted the book French Idioms and Special Vocabulary tucked away in the Oxfam shop in Woodbridge two years ago.

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He enjoyed it so much he has paid for it to be reprinted - and he thinks it may bring a smile to the Christmas dinner table when people pore over the unusual phrasing.

Mr Taylor, of Little Bealings, near Woodbridge, said he regularly browsed in shops for useful grammar books.

But while this book may not be especially useful, it has an odd outlook on life with some unusual phrasing that the unknown author believed was relevant for the education of teenagers at a private school.

The book was owned by a Charles Grendorge Ewing, a pupil at Cheltenham College, and it was printed in Cheltenham in 1897.

Mr Taylor has now had the book reprinted and it will be for sale from early December in Browsers bookshop, in Thoroughfare, Woodbridge. He will make a donation from the proceeds to Oxfam.

He said: “I have funded this project out of my own pocket and I hope that it will give people a laugh, particularly now in this economic climate, and also there is nothing else like it.

“At a time when modern foreign languages have taken a bit of a dip in popularity in schools perhaps this will be a boost and people sitting round the Christmas table will have a laugh.

“There is really nothing else like this book, it has such random phrases that are so useless now.

“You would expect to have phrases about money, directions and accommodation but instead you have phrases such as 'the savages were armed with bows and lancers' and 'the shopkeepers vie with one another in swindling.'

“It offers a slice of Edwardian morals and thought through a French-English phrase book.”


Les sauvages etaient armes d'arcs et de lances - The savages were armed with bows and lancers.

Cette montre a coute plus cher que celle de votre niece - This watch cost more than your niece's.

Le paysan au fils duquel j'ai ecrit - The peasant to whose son I have written.

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