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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

How France’s ‘most embarrassing’ baby name doesn’t actually exist

It's regularly trotted out as an embarrassing French baby name and we've heard plenty of reports of people claiming that their cousin's schoolmate's friend was called it.

How France's 'most embarrassing' baby name doesn't actually exist
What are you naming the baby? Photo: AFP

The fact that some people call their children Clitorine in unwitting reference to the clitoris (which incidentally is the same word in French in case you were searching for it) seems to be quite widely accepted in France.

Except that they don't.

The data from French statistics body INSEE does not list it, neither does the Paris electoral roll or the register of deaths.

It seems that the nearest this has ever come to being a real name was in the title of a series of pornographic novels from the 1970s.

So how did it get started?

Well we can't find an exact source for this rumour, but Baptiste Coulmont, a professor of sociology at Université Paris 8 writing in French newspaper Le Monde, suggests that the weird name performs an important social function – namely sparing people embarrassment.

Stick with us here.

He says: “Discussions about baby names always present a small danger. 'Ah, is it a boy? Have you thought of a name? Anything but Arthur, I hope!'

“But the joke is over when you discover that they had indeed thought of Arthur for the little one. Embarrassing moment. 

“So you need a sure thing to discuss names. Clitorine is that sure value, the name that allows social interaction to continue quietly, without risk of embarrassment.”
 
And even if you do stumble across a couple who want to name their new baby this, the chances are they won't be allowed to.
 
France has some rules about what names parents are allowed to choose and anything that is deemed against the child's best interest can be banned.
 
Over the years judges have vetoed Nutella and Renault among other bizarre parental choices.
 
The most popular baby names in France last year were Emma (an excellent choice) and Gabriel.
 
And if you're a fan of French urban legends – check out the one about the strawberry tart.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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