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I understand that there is a French phrase, 'A quoi bon dire?' (It happens to be the title of a poem by the lesser-known English poet Charlotte Mew, but that's not directly relevant to this question.) I also understand that the nearest English equivalent might be, 'What's the point of talking about it?'

If I wanted a vaguely witty riposte to 'A quoi bon dire?', what might my options be? In English, I might say, 'Some things are worth saying.' According to the ever-infallible Google Translate, putting this into French gives, 'Certaines choses méritent d'être dites'. But is that correct, and is it elegant French?

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    I think this lacks a little context to get to a worthwhile answer. I'm not sure "a quoi bon dire?" always means that "there is nothing that is worth saying", for example. I'm not sure it's a very common sentence either.
    – Frank
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 19:15
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    'Certaines choses méritent d'être dites' is quite OK to a French reader. Langage soutenu, IMHO.
    – Denis
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 19:36
  • @Frank There is a link to a semi-famous poem with the title 'A Quoi Bon Dire' in the question. Is that not sufficient context? If you think that I have mistranlated the French into English - which is more than possible, my French being dreadful - then please do let me know.
    – Tom Hosker
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 19:42
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    À quoi bon dire is not a phrase as such. In fact if you enter a quoi bon dire in a search engine and ask for results in French the first answers you get are in English for Charlotte Mew's poem, so mentioning it is the title of the poem entirely relevant. The words take their full meaning only once you've read the poem. Used in a French context the words à quoi bon dire would be followed by something else. And I agree with @Denis's comment.
    – None
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 19:47
  • @TomHosker Well, for a poem, the poet can take considerable license - it doesn't mean that that poem's title is a common phrase in French.
    – Frank
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 19:59

1 Answer 1

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IMHO A quoi bon dire? is not exactly the same as What's the point of talking about it?. As a native French speaker, I would translate to talk about something with parler de quelque chose, and not dire quelque chose.

After a short Google search I found (here) this translation What’s the good of saying?. I really think that the sense is closer. After dire you normally expect a (partial) sentence, and in the context of the poem, the expected words are Good-bye (or more exactly Something that sounded like Good-bye). While in parler de [quelque chose] you normally expect a more general idea like death or loss.

That being said 'Certaines choses méritent d'être dites' is correct French. But I would not say it elegant, because chose is a too vague word to be elegant.

I would rather use:

  • Ceci mérite d'être dit - it is almost your words, but in a langage soutenu level, a passive form is often prefered to using on or chose
  • Je veux dire - here I admit that the sense is slightly different, but I really think it is closer to the context of A quoi bon dire. Both are short and incomplete sentences. The major difference is that the sentence from the poem is more generic (the subject can be you or a third person) while mine directly implies the author.
  • Il faut dire - I think it is closer to the original poem title, but maybe less strong because using je shows the implication of the author. In his famous article about the Dreyfus affair, Emile Zola used J'accuse as title, IMHO for that reason - and was jailed because of it if I correctly remember...

After @Frank's comment, I think that a point is missing here. On a grammatical point of view the sentence A quoi bon dire? is not correct French. Dire (to say) is a verbe transitif and requires a complément d'objet direct. Said differently it can only be used in a poetic or litterary context, and will never be used in current French language.

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  • Tu peux imaginer un dialogue où l'un des protagonistes dit "A quoi bon dire?" et un autre répond "Je veux dire." ou "Il faut dire." et c'est tout? Tout est possible, certes, mais on est un peu dans le surréel... ce ne serait pas un dialogue naturel.
    – Frank
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 14:52
  • @Frank: Je n'ai jamais pensé que le langage des poètes était vraiment naturel ;-) . Ceci étant j'imagine assez quelqu'un commençant une phrase avec A quoi bon dire ... et un autre intervenant Moi je veux le dire (Bon je l'imagine dans un texte littéraire voire philosophique, parce dans la vraie vie j'ai plus de mal...). L'idée étant bien sur que le premier défend qu'il ne sert à rien de dire certaines choses, et son contradicteur disant qu'il faut / qu'il veut le dire quand même. Un peu dans l'esprit d'un sujet de philosophie Les mots ont ils de l'importance ?. Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 15:33
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    Commencer une phrase: oui, mais l'OP laisse à penser que A quoi bon dire? est une phrase complète voire courante en français, ce qui n'est pas le cas. A quoi bon parler? serait une phrase complète, par contre.
    – Frank
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 15:39
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    @Frank: Je reconnais avoir répondu dans le contexte du poème, ou d'un titre/accroche. Mais je suis d'accord, hors d'une licence poétique ou littéraire cette phrase est incorrecte. Grammaticalement, on a un verbe transitif sans complément d'objet ... Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 15:48
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    @Frank: J'ai modifié mon post pour que ce soit plus clair... Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 15:56

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