Did Madame want the Poison, or a poisson?

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Not a fragrance – but fishy and poisonous!

Fish and Fragrance? Not a combination that readily springs to mind. The only aroma associated with fish is decidedly not fragrant, unless you are refined enough to think about a “Bouillabaisse”or a delicate fish stew spiked with saffron. But just ‘fish’? I don’t think so. By now, I’m sure you are wondering what on earth this has to do with a site of pronunciation, so let me explain : I was in Duty Free a while ago, and saw a very well-dressed woman go up to a saleslady and imperiously demand a bottle of perfume, which she loudly and firmly asked for by name: – ‘pwahssoh~’.

The reason clichés, such as “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” become clichés is because they are so annoyingly true. If the prospective purchaser had just spared everyone at the store what she remembered of her high-school French, and asked for what she wanted using English pronunciation, she would have avoided publically humiliating herself, and mortifying everyone else at the fragrance counter by asking for ‘fish’ – because that is what her pronunciation indicated in French. Yes, “poisson” is French for “fish”.

Of course, she meant to ask for Christian Dior’s iconic fragrance, “Poison”, which is pronounced “pwahzoh~” in French. This may look like such a small, insignificant difference to the untrained eye, but as you can see, there is nothing small and insignificant in the difference in meaning. No-one wants to make this mistake, unless they intentionally trying to be funny. She wasn’t, but the situation was. Check the website for soundfiles and full explanations, so you don’t fall into the same trap!
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About the Author

Marie-Ora is obsessed with pronunciation, languages, food, wine, cooking, 4Foots. and chocolate. When she isn't working, she enjoys snacking, sipping on wine, reading and napping, and is currently researching methods to do all 4 simultaneously. Although Marie-Ora has absolutely no vices, she is easily provoked by mis-pronunciations, bad coffee, and unwarranted hype.


  1. auto mechanics  January 21, 2011

    Nice site, nice and easy on the eyes and great content too.

  2. incorporate business  January 24, 2011

    nice post. thanks.

  3. JRS  September 18, 2011

    I know some restaurants where getting it wrong wouldn’t make any difference – your life would be on the line either way….particularly, the Chinese restaurant where we found the owner fishing for crabs in a certain Joburg body of water famous for signs next to along the lines of “Nevermind about drinking the water, don’t even dip your toes in it…”

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