Jun 1, 2015

The Egg in the Water: Coeur Poitevin


Young French children learn about "the egg in the water", "l'œuf dans l'eau", which is a homonym for "l'E dans l'O" -- the letter E stuck in the letter O, that is. It's an oddball spelling manœuvre, but useful for when your sœur (sister) orders hors d'œuvres.

It's an ancient Latin leftover, and now usually written as two separate letter -- oe. So most words, including such common words as œuf and cœur (heart) and œil (eye) are written oeuf and coeur. Certainly it's a lot easier with typewriter keyboards. Some words made it into English with the oe, including diarrhoea, if you're British. If you're American, your diarrhea has lost the O, so there's no egg in the toilet water, just diarrhea.

You can have an O followed by an E that is not an egg in the water -- such as poésie (poetry, pronounced "po-eh-ZEE"), coefficient (pronounced co-eh-fee-SHAN), or Noël. But in most cases, O followed by E is a throwback to old Latin. In the above case, the sign is wishing you "meilleurs vœux", or "best wishes".

Besides the "egg in the water" -- the E in the O -- it's also known in French as the o-e ("connected o-e"), the  ("oe stuck together"), and, my favorite, "Ethel". It is not named after a 1950s housewife, but rather is a modernized pronunciation of an ancient word eðel. Frankly, I've never heard a French person call it that, and most of my French friends don't even understand what I mean when I call it that, so I think this name is even more obsolete than the Ethel (or E in the O) itself.

THE CHEESE: Cœur Poitevin

Cœur Poitevin is a raw goats' milk cheese, from the same family as Cœur de Touraine and the non-heart-shaped Selles-sur-Cher. It's named for the region where it's made -- the Marais Poitevin, which sounds better in French than its English translation, the Poitevin Swamp. The Marais Poitevin is an interregional park, covering areas in Deux-Sèvres, home to so many delicious goat cheeses, the Vendée, and the Charentes-Maritimes.

The cheese is lightly ashed and medium strength tangy-goaty. I'm sure it's psychological, since I know where it's made, but I feel like the saltiness actually tastes swampy. And I mean that in a good way. It's a creamy, lovely heart-shaped cheese.


In theory, this name of Cœur Poitevin cannot be written without an E in the O. In practice, of course, it can be -- Coeur Poitevin -- and that's how I regularly write it, because I can't be bothered to find the "œ" on the keyboard. I'm not alone; French people generally type -- and handwrite -- the OE as two separate letters also.


  1. Sur ma Remington portative
    J'ai écrit ton nom, Laetitia,
    L, A, E dans l'A, T, I, T, I, A

    ( Serge Gainsbourg )


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