I'm writing a dystopian novel based on a second Holocaust and during one of the scenes, the female protagonist is informed that the labor camp commander's dog has a German name, that's when she admits her ignorance to the German language and breaks her English, saying "Silly me, I studied French" referring to her prior education.

This would be the only French line in the book and I thought it would be a nice touch.

Obviously, it doesn't have to be verbatim, "Foolish me" or similar comparable phrase, especially one that might be more commonly used in the French language, would be acceptable as well.

  • You say "ignorance (of/about) sth" (according to the dictionaries); is "ignorance to sth" a new construction or is "to" an error in your text? – LPH Nov 15 at 7:51
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    Tabarnak, j'ai appris le québécois ! – Cœur Nov 15 at 14:13
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I understand that she feels bad about electing French and not German in her schooling, as German would have proven more useful, if only she could have evaluated the future a little better.

Mentionning explicitely the choice that failed to be made is a common way to express this in French:

  • Quelle idiote d’avoir choisi d’étudier le français !
       Word for word: What a fool to have elected to study French!
       What it means in more coloquial English: Why did I choose to study French?
  • Dire que j’ai étudié le français, quelle nulle !
       What it means in more coloquial English: ...and I studied French! Such a silly girl!

Nota bene:

1° Unlike in English, names of languages in French start with a lower case letter (anglais, français, islandais, japonais, russe, etc.).

2° A non-breaking space is used in French in front of punctuations that use two signs (as the colon, semi-colon, or in this case the exclamation mark). I don’t think anyone will pay too close attention to that detail when the main text is entirely in English, but you have a choice here to make it that bit more exotic by enforcing the French rule for the French sentence.

3° Other choices are possible, of course, and the votes and comments should (hopefully) ultimately allow the best choices to move ahead of the less satisfying ones. These last few comments will however apply to any past and future proposition.

  • +1 pour le choix de l'infinitif. – aCOSwt Nov 15 at 13:40
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    Je pense à une tournure que j'entends de plus en plus souvent : "C'est ballot!"... – aCOSwt Nov 15 at 13:44
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    @MatthieuM. It should be noted that OP didn't say when the story happens. – AmiralPatate Nov 15 at 15:07
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    @LPH Quelle nulle ! est courant depuis plusieurs décennies en français français parlé. Quelle nulle, c'était donc vrai que je n'étais bonne à rien !, Jérôme Attal, Bordel, 2003. – jlliagre Nov 15 at 16:52
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    @LPH Plutôt l'inverse. L'émission de Canal +, Les Nuls, l'émission montre que cette utilisation de « nul » était déjà bien connue et « à la mode » en 1990. Elle est antérieure à la collection For dummies qui a donné plus tard Pour les nuls en français. – jlliagre Nov 15 at 17:11

Moi, parlant pour moi et de moi : Imbécile ! T'as étudié le français ! (Oui je me tutoie... en privé...)

Plus rarement, parce que la conscience de soi... ça fait plus mal : Qu'est-ce que je peux être c** ! J'ai étudié...

Si je devais écrire cela dans un livre... Hmmm... non mais quelle idée ? Avouer cela publiquement... ;-) : Mais suis-je bête !, j'ai étudié...

Sotte que je suis, j'ai étudié le français!

The possibility considered above has the defect of being broken up into two parts each with its conjugated verb and that makes for a degree of connection less immediate, not so directly perceived as when there is just one conjugated verb as in the next possibility; this one is a variant that has only one conjugated verb and that is an utterance in a single part, unbroken by a comma; the connection by the preposition « de » is explicit.

Sotte que je suis d'avoir étudié le français!

For my part, I would use something a bit more verbose. It reads a bit sarcastic, but I believe this would fit to your need.

  • Zut alors, l'idiote que je suis a appris le français !
  • Your sentence is correct but does not quite correspond to the context; when someone say "l'idiote que je suis" that person is plainly saying that she is an idiot on all counts; "Silly me, I didn't see that!" rather means "I am silly on the count of not having seen that;", but not more. Wouldn't you think so? – LPH Nov 15 at 20:54
  • Mais non LPH, faut pas en rajouter – George M Nov 16 at 2:24
  • Moreover "zut alors" is meek, ineffective in this context; you wouldn't say in French "Zut alors, je suis bête!" nor after 10 years studying the subject, "Zut alors, j'ai choisi le français!"; you'd say that if instead of Japanese you'd checked inadvertently French for your next quarter hour. On top of that "zut alors" is overloading the idea: the English is a plain, concise statement : "silly me" . – LPH Nov 16 at 5:08
  • @LPH I disagree (obviously). The sentence is meek, but it is the point. This is the sarcasm I wrote about - saying this sentence with a cold tone and cold glare, in a situation when you want to make it clear you are angry. Even if one's keep a calm and serene appearance, it is clearly too sweet, and I read sarcasm in the OP's sentence, which is what I wanted to translate. The feeling, not the exact meaning. – Ayanimea Nov 17 at 6:09
  • To try to make you understand what I mean I'll use a little example in English; I'm sure you would find that odd: "Drat! They are going to hang me!"; the two utterances are obviously incommensurate. Moreover the way it's put in French induces the reader to think that the person is going through life saying and thinking she is an idiot; you might say this though: "L'idiote que je suis! J'ai appris le français!". In this way you can connect "being idiotic" with only "having learned French" and the whole utterance remains idiomatic; I do have questions, however, about "too sweet" and "sarcasm". – LPH Nov 17 at 12:39

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