Jul 27, 2015

Dangerous Liaisons: Petitome


I'm telling some French friends about a book we have, but when I translate "The Heroes of D-Day" into French, I say, "Les Héroes", pronouncing it with the liaison (the connecting sound between the two words): lay-zay-RO. My friends laugh, because with one tiny mistake, I have turned heroes into zeroes.

When a word starts with a vowel, the liaison is made when the final consonant, even one that is usually silent, is pronounced. So, for example: when my doctors tell me I am "trop américaine", they pronounce the normally-silent P at the end of "trop".

The problem is with the words beginning with the letter H. They trip me up on a regular basis because some Hs are considered silent, and some are considered aspirated (pronounced), but the problem is that even the aspirated once are, in practice, 100% silent. So you just have to memorize:

Officially aspirated (but actually silent) H, and therefore the S in the word "les" remains silent (and if there's a le or la, in the singular, it is fully pronounced and not contracted):

Les Halles (name of a metro stop in central Paris)
les haricots verts (green beans)
les haies (hedges)
les hérissons (hedgehogs)
les hiboux  (owls)
les homards (lobsters)
borrowed words like "les Highlanders"

Officially silent H, and therefore the S in the word "les" is pronounced like a Z:

les hommes (men)
les habits (clothes)
les habitudes (habits)
les hébergements (lodgings)
les hémisphères (hemispheres)
les herbes (grasses)
les hormones (hormones)

In fact, the word "héro" starts with an aspirated H, though there's really no way I could have known that unless the tiny compartment in my brain for nearly-useless (yet sometimes vitally important) information on foreign languages were a bit bigger. Believe me when I say, "French Aspirated H, you're my zero."

THE CHEESE: Petitome

Petitome, a contraction of Petit Tome (a small wheel of cheese), is a raw, farmhouse, organic sheeps' milk cheese from Alpes de Haute Provence. It's a small cheese named "small cheese", made in small batches, by a small producer, during a small portion of the year (especially spring/summer), so there's only a small chance you'll ever get to try it.

The white mold-covered Petitome disk is thick and creamy with grassy notes in it, and a hint of wet sheep wool. In a good way. The sheep who give their milk, as well as their wet wooly flavor, to the cheese are from the Laucane, Brigasque, Thônes, and Marthod breeds. They are raised on an organic farm, and the cheese is sold both at the farm and at local markets.


The cheese name, Petitome (pronounced "pa-tee-TUM"), sounds just like "petit homme" (meaning "little man"). If the H were aspirated in "homme", it would be pronounced without the liaison, as "pa-tee-UM". In this case, it's actually a contraction of "petit tome", but there's no way to know that based on pronunciation alone. It's a tiny little detail, these connected sounds at the ends of the words, and generally you'll be understood even if you make a mistake, based on context. Are you talking about a little cheese? Or a little man? But once in a while, when you make a mistake, you'll turn a Hero into a Zero.


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