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A franco friend of mine commented on a childhood photo the expression "on est dont bin cute".

As far as my understanding of this goes (being a latent francophone myself, and picking it back up now) I do not quite understand how this phrase comes to make sense. My friend says that in this context, "dont" means "très" or "beaucoup", but all the dictionaries I have checked, do not share in this meaning.

Does anyone know how this phrase arises to mean "we are very cute?".

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The word is donc, not dont. This word is usually pronounced [dɔ̃k], but the final c is sometimes silent in some dialects of French. Furthermore, in Québec French (the only dialect of French where the Anglicism cute exists), some linguists analyze the pronunciation [dɔ̃] as being a separate word which could be spelled don or dont; see Laure's answer on the previously linked question. The primary meaning of the word donc is “hence, thus, so”. In this context, it doesn't really connote consequence, but rather adds a bit of emphasis and expresses that the sentence is about a particular situation (TLF §III.A); this is a meaning which is generally pronounced with a silent c in Québec.

bin is a variant of bien, rarely written this way, evoking a chiefly Québec pronunciation [bɛ̃]. Here, the word is a pure intensifier, meaning “very”.

The subject pronoun on normally refers to an unspecified, generic person: it's an impersonal pronoun. In modern colloquial French, it's often used instead of the first person plural (instead of nous), but this is not the case here. Here on refers to the person that the speaker is talking to, as in a second person singular. This is uncommon but not unheard of (I don't use it myself, but I recognize it). I (city Frenchman) feel that it's rural and dated; it may be more common in Québec. It is limited to certain circumstances but I have a hard time explaining which. Rose Sene analyzes it as colloquial, and either ironic or affectionate; in this case it's clearly affectionate. “We” can be used in a somewhat similar way in English, though not in exactly the same circumstances (e.g. a shopkeeper might greet a customer by saying “How are we today?” — “Comment va-t-on ajourd'hui ?”).

To put it all together, this sentence transcribes colloquial Québec French, meaning literally “one is so cute”, or more idiomatically in English “Oooh, how cute you/we look!” or just “Oooh, how cute!”.

  • Indeed, "don ben" is very idiomatic phrase in quebec, used for intensification (usually with cute or fin*=*gentil). Why "(s)he" when the original sentence is about "us/we" ? – Nikana Reklawyks Oct 20 '16 at 20:29
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    @NikanaReklawyks I expanded my answer. Here it's actually (probably) a second person singular, so my translation was wrong. It's a strange usage, from an urban French perspective. The usage of on as a second person pronoun could warrant a question of its own. – Gilles 'SO nous est hostile' Oct 20 '16 at 20:59
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    What makes you think it's a second person singular and not that both OP and the speaker are on the photo, and the speaker really meant "look how cute we are together" ? Your interpretation is certainly possible, but to me it seems way less probable, and I really don't see any hint towards it. In particular, constructions like "how are we today" are typically a bit distant (used to show familiarity towards unknowns), whereas 'don ben' hints that the people are close. If the speaker meant "tu", he would have said "qu'est-ce que t'es cute" (imho). – Nikana Reklawyks Oct 21 '16 at 0:18
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    Le scénario dont parle @NikanaReklawyks est possible (celui qui commente apparaît aussi sur la photo). Je pense que je suis d'accord avec l'idée qu'on aurait dit davantage un truc comme t'es don' ben belle pour 2SG que avec on, quoique c'est pas impossible non plus ; on pour le tu ici serait remarquablement distant, ou ironique, à mon avis. Il aurait été bien de savoir si la personne qui commente est sur la photo et quelle(s) étai(en)t la(les) réponse(s). Merci. – user3177 Oct 21 '16 at 2:32
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When hearing/reading similar uses of 'dont", I've always thought that the speaker/writer was using "dont" when "donc" might have been a better choice of words: "on est donc mimi comme tout!'

  • Indeed the person is using the word "donc", only not pronouncing it as you're used to. (Or using the word "don", according to some.) They would write it "donc" themselves, it's the OP who transliterated it wrongly. – Nikana Reklawyks Oct 20 '16 at 20:15
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My grandmother's favorite expression was, "Il est donc valeur d'etre vielle." My best translation of "donc" in this context is "so" or "such," as in "It's such a shame being old."

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