As far as I can tell, the only song from Cindy: Cendrillon 2002 to make it onto Luc Plamondon's collection J'aurais voulu être un artiste, etc. is "Salaud" (paroles). I've worked out most of it...

I have this line narrowed down to two options, though I'm not quite sure which is better:

Ce mot ... vaudra à ma syntaxe ton sourire machinal.
This word ... will give my syntax your unthinking smile.
This word ... is worth your unthinking smile at my syntax.

The second one requires an awkward inversion in the French but makes more sense in English. (Also, is syntaxe here a euphemism for "foul language"?)

The translation of this one is easier, but not the allusion:

Je veux qu'il te fasse mal, comme un solo de sax dans un slow minimal.
I want it to do you harm, like a sax solo in a minimalist slow dance. (??)

Should I know what a minimalist slow dance is, and do they generally feature heart-wrenching saxophone solos? Or have I got the sense wrong?

  • I would dig to much looking for a too meaningful translation. Some of these these words are more used for the rhyme (fasse mal / matinal, si mal / machinal je te faxe / solo de sax / syntaxe) than anything else. In any case, your second translation of the first sentence doesn't work. A slow minimal would be a short slow dance.
    – jlliagre
    Apr 23, 2017 at 9:11
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    Thanks for sharing this song & its biting lyrics, the gist of which reminds me of “You Oughta Know” by another ultra-talented Canadienne! In spite of both Ms Bouchard’s much too modest claim (“moi qui écrit si mal”) and the possibility mentioned elsewhere that rhyme might be behind some of this, imo, each word does/could have deeper meaning worthy of exploration (+1). Eg (just conjecture): Could “minimal” here mean, as it can in art, “emotionless/lacking sentiment” & could “a ma syntaxe” mean “in my [rule]book/world”=“As I see it, this word ... is no worse than your (thoughtless?) smile”?
    – Papa Poule
    Apr 23, 2017 at 22:42
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    I want him to hurt you like a sax solo in a simple slow dance. Musically, yikes! That could be annoying to the ears, as it were.
    – Lambie
    Apr 24, 2017 at 15:31
  • @Lambie I think you’re right, it’s probably as “simple” as that. Maybe that line is Bouchard’s take on Alanis scratching her nails down someone's back but, depending on the sax player’s talent, with the nails scratching down a chalkboard instead!
    – Papa Poule
    Apr 24, 2017 at 16:24
  • Thanks for the suggestions! I know there's a degree of interpretation involved, but if anyone wants to make a "definite" answer out of this, feel free. @PapaPoule Glad it's a hit with you, though I must mention that Bouchard's version is the cover. The lyrics are by Luc Plamondon, putting words in the mouth of the woman Prince Charming leaves for Cinderella in the modern retelling. Hopefully that doesn't detract from it. :p
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 24, 2017 at 17:31

2 Answers 2


Ce mot que je te faxe, moi qui écrit si mal,
Vaudra à ma syntaxe, ton sourire machinal.

A long explicit version of the innuendoes contained in these two verses could go as follow :

This message¹ I’m faxing to you, me whose writing skills are so minimal²,
Will incur my syntax that ever-present condescending³ smile of yours.

Obviously, my translation is rather wordy, since it was meant to explicit what was to be read between the lines.

The syntax is either literally her syntax, with all the mistakes she’s expecting it to contain; or else her writing in general, syntax being one of its features. If it is the latter, then we may suppose that syntax as well as the rest (spelling, grammar, choice of words, etc.) suffers similar weaknesses, and syntax was elected among them for some reason, perhaps because it is the least important, yet enough to generate that condescending smile, and therefore showing with that much more clarity how despicable and arrogant the smiling individual is. Either way, she believes these mistakes (big or small – I would lean on the small side, for they are in any case less important than the content of the message itself) will provoke a smile when he notices them (immediately upon reading, for what we can gather of the guy).

Some aspects of the song remain mysterious to me, though. At a few points, we’re hearing about a fax, but eventually the fax turns into a display on a digital screen. While digital screens are not the traditional medium for faxed documents (paper would be), Wikipedia has a possible explanation for this, but in the end, I remain skeptical, since this opera was produced in 2002, and composed before (by how much, though?).

¹ I believe ‘un mot’ in this case is a message. I saw in the Oxford Dictionary that word can also be used in this sense in English, but it seems to me like it’s not that common, for I haven’t met it very often. I might be wrong, though, and you’d be in a better position than me to seal this point.

Could the word actually consist of the single word ‘Salaud!’, as stated on Wikipedia? Well, it’s been understood like this by at least some people, but I have a hard time with this interpretation for a few reasons. First, it would be really hard to smile at the syntax of a one word message. Then, later in the song, she mentions about her being calm again and reading the ‘word’ on a digital screen. I know memory can sometimes fade, but forgetting about the lone word of such a scream from the heart seems unlikely to me: she shouldn’t need an image of the message to remember its full content in the right order. Also, she’s hoping the message will turn him into a ‘désaxé’, which seems very delusional if we’re talking about a one word written insult, no matter how much hatred you put into it.

² She’s stating a general fact about her capacity to write properly, according the rules of the language. Since I meant to be explicit, I went beyond an image that may well have been translated as-is into English (me who write so poorly).

³ That smile, combined with the occasion that will trigger it (her self-proclaimed poor writing capacities), and the general tone of the song (she hates the man to whom she’s sending a word), points out to an unpleasantly sarcastic and condescending smile, from a man too happy to show how superior he thinks he is. She must have had to suffer it more than once, for she’s describing it as machinal, that is, automatic. One could almost think of it as a Pavlovian smile: he has it as soon as he perceives a weakness on her part.

  • Thanks. One thing I was wondering about reading "syntaxe" literally: Are there particular faults in her syntax that we can expect? I see her informal word choice, but not syntactic errors... perhaps "syntaxe" is, as you imply and jlliagre says, one element selected to stand for her whole speaking style because it was the element that rhymed. Syntactically (...), I guess your reading of that line that confused me corresponds to my first one: "x vaudra y à z" = the word will earn my syntax your smile. Good thoughts on "machinal". Not sure about "message"; after all, her fax is one word long. ;)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 25, 2017 at 15:20
  • Is the real fax only one word long? It is quite an interesting reading that I had not thought of. But then, I don't understand how the syntax of a one word long message would make anyone smile. I need to think about it a little longer or get some help... Apr 25, 2017 at 23:47
  • I based that on the Wikipedia article, which reads: "Judy comprend ce qui est en train de se passer, et juste avant de se suicider par overdose, envoie à Ricky un fax comportant le seul mot « Salaud ! »." But the synopsis is uncited. I just checked the inset on the Cindy jewel case and it mentions this being "le dernier mot" she utters, not "le seul mot" she faxes. I haven't seen the stage show, but from this video (around 33:40), there appears to be no stage direction associated with the actual fax. So I'm not 100% confident...
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 26, 2017 at 2:50
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    I just read the lyrics again, and I can’t figure out how one single word, full of hatred as it may be, could ever ’désaxer’ someone. Either she’s delusional about its potential impact , or she’s actually stating more than just ’Salaud!’. I like your idea that she might imagine he could receive such a message (if only she was in a state to compose it), and that he could then realize she was able to pinpoint his weaknesses (predictably patronizing, bookkeeping the women he ’hunted’, priding himself with his soulless place on a 30th floor) behind the image he wanted to project of himself. Apr 26, 2017 at 12:36
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    Good point. To me, if there's one serious flaw with this song, it's that in the context of the musical there seems to be no reason to send this message by fax, not in the age of digital screens — unless you want to désaxe someone and do other things ending in -ax. In any case, agreed that it would be a somewhat funny picture: « Je relis relaxe » ... the one word « Salaud ! ».
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 26, 2017 at 14:21

This word will earn my grammar your automatic smile (Or you can retain 'syntax', but it may be a bit too precise in the English equivalent. As to 'machinal', it implies just a reflex rather than a thoughtful action, but unthinking might be putting too much thought into it here, pun intended and unapologized for)

I want it to hurt you, like a sax solo in a minimalist slow dance (Doing harm is way too ponderous and formal here. Yes, 'un slow' is a slow dance, usually danced close together. Minimalism here I think implies a very small band, but I could be wrong).

  • Thanks! Indeed, I was wondering about "machinal". To my mind, it captures two senses that would be hard to get in one English word. My reading of it includes both unthinking reflex (Feelew's "Pavlovian"), but also implies a certain soullessness: acting as a machine rather than as a human. But "soulless" is too strong, "mindless" implies stupidity, "unthinking" and "reflexive" aren't quite negative enough, "thoughtless" ironically attributes more cruelty to the guy than intended... there's no easy win.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 25, 2017 at 15:28
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    Pavlovian is definitely one layer of meaning for machinal, I like that. I think a good rendering of the other layer would be 'my mind was wandering'. You're doing something, but you're not really paying attention to what's happening, whether to the action itself or what's causing it. I don't know that machinal would necessarily be more negative than unthinking, but perhaps it's a matter of intent - unthinking could be deliberate, but machinal by definition wouldn't be. Although you could argue that for a human to be the recipient of a machinal anything from another is never a good thing..
    – user13512
    Apr 25, 2017 at 22:09
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    The main conclusion we can draw from all this is that French has untold riches of vocabulary about the subtleties of boredom, habit, and unseeing neglect :-). Americans don't think about those states of being when they 'machinalement' assume that long-term relationships are good.
    – user13512
    Apr 25, 2017 at 22:13
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    "Although you could argue that for a human to be the recipient of a machinal anything from another is never a good thing." — Nor to have one's smile have become machinal—hints of emotionlessness too, perhaps? In any case, indeed, very interesting range of meanings.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Apr 26, 2017 at 2:56
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    Machinal applied to human (it is most of the time anyway) doesn't have to be negative. This comment will be a bit beside the discussion, but I just want to give some neutral or positive examples of machinal human behaviours: «Se verser un café machinalement», «Ouvrir machinalement le radio en démarrant l'auto», «Rejeter machinalement les fraises moisies». It could be a good way to buy time to overthink other aspects of life... :p True, though, a «sourire machinal» is not promising. Apr 26, 2017 at 12:50

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