Sunday, August 28, 2005

On en a rien à foutre

I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said "On en a rien à foutre" on the back. It was just a glimpse, but here's the process that it sent my mind into: 1. I know foutre, it means a whole bunch of things, including "dont' care" "fuck" "do". 2. En is the objective pronoun when a verb is followed by "de". 3. On literally means one but is used more often to mean "we" or just everybody around the person making the statement. 4. So then I was at We have nothing of it to not care. 5. And then I was like bling! oh yeah 'We don't give a shit about anything!" I laughed out loud to myself.

But foutre fucks me up. I know also that s'en foutre is used in an inoffensive way to mean "to not care." So if you want to say "I don't care" or "I'm not interested," you can say "Je m'en fous." First of all, it's counterintuitive to the english speaker because it's a negative comment in english but positive in french. Then, I can't find a single verb to come close to it in english. In english, being disinterested is expressed with an adjective ("I'm not interested" "he's disinterested") or negatively. What's the positive verb in english that expresses not caring in a positive form? To carethnot?

And then just to make it all complicated in french, it has to be both reflexive and have that elusive subjective pronoun "en" in it. Those things make it extremely tricky to conjugate on the fly. If "I don't care" was simply "je fous" (which as I explained above is still tricky, because the instinct is to say "je ne fous pas"), then it wouldn't be so bad to work on "il fout" or "Ils foutent." But those phrases mean "he fucks" or "they fuck!" So you've got to conjugate it as "Je m'en fous" and "Ils s'en fout" and then put those bad boys in the passé composé while you're trying to catch the metro!

Worse, foutre, as you can see, has tons of meanings. In this rare case, the Larousse is not very helpful. They claim it means "faire l'amour" as in make love. Which maybe it once did, but I don't think anybody uses it like that. But it also means "fucked" as in done for, or taken out. Like my kung fu teacher is always saying things like, "si tu fais ça, tu es foutu" (if you do that, you're screwed, or the opponent will have taken you down.) That sort of correlates with "fuck" in english, but in french it's foutu doesn't have such a harsh meaning. You could say it in respectable company and nobody would be offended.

Finally, some of the other people I asked also said that foutre can also be interchanged with faire as in to do. So you can say, "Moi, je l'ai foutu hier" (I did it yesterday).

Sorry to bore those of you who don't find these grammatical flailings interesting. Really, I'm asking for help. If anybody out there has a better handle on foutre and can explain it to me in a way that I can structure some kind of relationship between all the different meanings and structures, in such a way that I could get it in my mind and be able to use it, I would be most grateful!


Olivier said...


The Petit Robert, which I have right here, might help. It gives 3 main meanings to the term, deeming it a "verbe", an interjection and a nom masculin

1) "Foutre"
That's the big one, the most emphasized meaning of foutre in Le Petit Robert, that is, as a verb. It branches in two very similar (on the surface!) meanings.

i) That's the first branch; it's mostly about sex, but with an interesting twist.
1.1) "Posséder Sexuellement, Pénétrer". Obvious enough, but is today mostly used in a metaphorical way, to express that one is screwed (as in Karaté). The main thing is, it relates to sex not as intercourse, but as a mean of possession, of ownership.
1.2) "Faire l'amour, Baiser"; sexual intercourse...

ii)We are still in "1)", but this is where we really get into what bugs you. We still are in the general viccinity of refering to sex as a vulgar way to assess different things, but we are not talking about sex anymore. Here, the verb Foutre has to be understood as either a verbe transitif or a verbe pronominal
A) As a verbe transitif, it has 3 branches:
-"Faire": To do; "J'ai rien à foutre" I've got nothing to do.
-"Mettre; ficher, flanquer, jeter" and, personnally, I'd add "garrocher"; "Garroches ça aux vidanges!" Throw it to the curb!
-"Donner": this is sometimes a locution; "Je t'en foutrais un dictionnaire!". I think a rough equivalent in english would be "Dream on, bitch.". But I'm open to suggestions... This is the category in which you can also find "Foutez-moi la paix!" (Leave me alone! Litterally "Give me peace!")...
B) As a verbe pronominal it has 2 meanings:
-"Se mettre avec violence, rapidité" "Il s'est foutu un coup de marteau sur la main". He smashed his hand with a hammer.
-"Se foutre de" "se moquer de". That's your "On en a rien à foutre".

One of the main use of the verbe pronominal is, if I'm not mistaken (I'm awful at grammar, or is it syntax?), to give a reflexive twist to the phrase; you go pronominal when you want to put emphasis on the role of the subject of the phrase. In my example, you want emphasis on the fact that he smashed his hand.

Now, we have two last meanings:
2) As an interjection "Fichtre! Diable!"; "Darn!"
3) As a nom masculin "Sperme". Eh...

Overall, what this boils down to is, in my own opinion, that you are ready to take the next step and buy a Petit Robert. Le Petit Larousse is a beginner's dictionnary; word definitions are short, and you have a big "proper noun" section (kind of a mini encyclopedy). When in elementary or secondarys chool, it's very useful. But once you get beyond that (and you definitely are beyond those levels when it comes to understanding of the french language), it doesn't cut it. Le Petit Robert is a tad bigger and solely concerns common nouns.

You also have Le Grand Dictionnaire Terminologique

The Office Québécois de la Langue Française isn't just "The Language Police"...

Jarrett said...

how about fancy free or whimsical or footloose?

Olivier said...

Jarrett: I don't know, it was rethorical ;)...

I also forgot: There is this expression, "jean-foutre" used for people unable to care to do anything...

Anonymous said...

Kung-fous. sorry had to say it...