The funny thing about Putin, is that it means “whore” in French

True story.  Every time I try to talk to a Frenchman about Vladimir Putin, and his crackdown on gay and trans people, I keep inadvertently referring to him as “Vladimir Whore.”

It’s not intentional, though I enjoy the irony of it.

You see, in French, they spell and pronounce Putin’s name “Poutine.”  Like “routine,” but with a P.  I always forget that funny French spelling, and, well, it’s caused some problems.

You see, if you’re an anglophone and you try to pronounce the name “Putin,” not realizing that here it’s spelled “Poutine,” you turn back to your old trusty French phonetic lessons.  First rule is that “Pu” is pronounced kind of like “poo” in English, but it’s a much sharper “oo” sound. Then you look at the end of the word, see “tin,” and you know that in French the “in” would turn instead into a nasal sound like the “o” in “on,” and you’d drop the “n” all together.  So, last night, while talking to a friend about gays in Russia, I did just that.  I relied on my trust phonetics lessons and called the Russian leader “Vladimir poo-TO,” which actually means “Vladimir Whore.”

It can also mean “f*ck” and lots of other nasty things.

It’s not the first time I’ve had a bit of a blip with my French.  I remember the first time I went into a grocery story to buy some duck pâté, which I discovered here when I was 19, and adore to this day.  I went up to the butcher and instead of asking for “pâté de canard,” I asked if he had any “pâté de connard.”  The man laughed heartily because the adorable foreigner had just asked for some “asshole pâté.”

Which got me thinking of a wonderful video an expat here did about the word “putain” and all of its various uses in French.

putain-video

It’s a funny little video, and worth a watch:


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • http://frenchtogether.com/ Benjamin

    Many foreigners make funny mistakes when they start speaking French. As a French, it made me laugh many times to hear those mistakes. Once a friend said “je suis chochonne” to mean she was eating in a dirty way. Except that it actually means something like “I love sex” :D

    If these funny use of the French language interest you, here is a blog post I wrote on the subject.
    http://frenchtogether.com/things-shouldnt-say-traveling-france/

  • mzm

    I thought it was funny as well.

  • mzm
  • mzm
  • disqus_w9suykipZM

    I don’t think Putin is trying to be Mr. Perfect. I think he is respecting religion. He may even support civil unions, but maybe not gay marriage as marriage is connected to the church.
    Why is religious freedom so hard for everyone to accept?

    I mean it is perfectly fine for women to walk around town with low cut tops, their breasts hanging out, with skirts up to their ass and shorts showing their ass checks.
    I mean this is the woman showing her power right?

  • http://buddybest.tripod.com/index.html BuddyNovinski

    Perhaps it’s related to ‘queue”, which means tail. The original meaning of “penis” also meant tail in Latin. John should know this slang better than we do.

  • fletcher

    So maybe we can have Putin on the Ritz (cracker).

  • ArthurH

    When Colgate marketed its Cue toothpaste brand outside the U.S. it found sales almost nonexistent in nations where French was spoken. It seems “cue” in French is a colloquialism for the anal orifice.

  • Ednahilda

    ‘Pute” (pronounced POO-teh), plural ‘Puten” is turkey in German.

    I wish I had a clever comment to add here, but I don’t.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    That’s like asking the way to a temple in Japan and having the Japanese hear it as ‘toilet.’

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    We’ve all said things in another language that cracked up the locals. One of my friends lived in Madrid for years and once somehow (my Spanish isn’t good enough to remember) ordered a penis sandwich at her local deli. The staff thought it was so funny that they remembered the mistake every time she went back. It is funny and it’s too bad and some readers would think so if they’d remove the sticks from their asses.

  • Bomer

    I thought it was funny as well.

  • Erich Heidrich

    I couldn’t finish it. Tried 2 hard 2 be funny and it was annoying beyond words. Doesn’t work. Not everyone should do these videos, takes a special voice and body movement. Not here.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Waving hand and thinks its funny.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Ya got to have a sense of humor. John, thanks for lightening it up. I prefer to think of Putin as puta—- no disrespect for the working sisters either. :-)

  • http://buddybest.tripod.com/index.html BuddyNovinski

    Foreign languages allow so much fun, from the Chevrolet “nova”, meaning it doesn’t go, to Je suis chaud, meaning, I’m in heat, not I’m hot.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I’ve edited the piece, but I kind of thought the part where I wrote the word “Putin” out and then dissected it into it’s part “pu” and “tin,” and then pronounced each part in French, was about as obvious as you could get that I was pronouncing the word phonetically :)

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Beacause one didn’t know. One does now, however :)

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Clearly either I can’t tell a story well in English, or a lot of people have zero sense of humor. Though it’s entirely possible that both are true. I’m American. I’m fluent in French. So I’m not describing a mistake that a Frenchman would make. I’m describing a mistake that an American would make. And to an American, fluent in French, trying to pronounce the word “Putin,” spelled “P-u-t-i-n,” we would pronounce it the way you say “putain.”

    And yes, a story about how Vladimir Putin’s name is mispronounced by an American as “Vladimir Whore” is rather silly. That’s kind of the point. Putain, it’s the weekend. This isn’t intended to be rocket science :)

  • Vincent

    Mmm… as much as your coverage of this issue is useful and welcome, this note is rather silly. Because in French, “Poutine” is pronounced just like the English “Putin” (with a French accent, of course, but still the same way) and there is no way a French person would think that it sounds close to the word “putain”…
    If you apparently know some French language, it’s rather odd that you would want to Frenchify it by *pronouncing* it like the French ‘putain’. In most cases, pronounciation is close, while spelling may be adjusted.

  • Straightnotnarrow

    My wife an I make and Italian street dish called pasta putinesca. Literally whore’s pasta. We make it with capers and tuna fish and a stock marinara base. Always amazing. Now hilarious.

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    I just learned the other day that Poutine is a French corruption of the English word “pudding” which is itself a corruption of an old French word, which I forget now. But I found it interesting how it circled back into French.

  • Strepsi

    LOL — and surprisingly, no.

  • Strepsi

    Yes it could have been clearer in the article that he’s talking phoenetically. Putain!

  • Strepsi

    No, no not at all, it is every day city food too. It’s regional cuisine from Quebec that has practically become our national dish, it’s even in McDonald’s year round. Even in Quebec top chefs still make poutine, including Poutine de fois gras.
    http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/menu.html

    I like regular old diner poutine with cheese curds and brown gravy — looks revolting but is SO addictive, and is 100% guaranteed hangover cure

  • KarenJ

    I always thought Poutine was the Canadian equivalent of elephant ears or funnel cakes, i.e., summer or harvest fair food, or pro game fan food (to be found at hockey games, of course).

  • goulo

    Coincidentally the Esperanto word “putino” is slang for a whore.

    http://eo.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putino

  • fletcher

    And does eating this dish cause one to do what DastiusKrazitauc describes in his post above?

  • fletcher

    Does this mean Putin has a chance for a guest shot on “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”?

  • DastiusKrazitauc

    And from where I’m from, South Carolina, pootin’ means passin’ gas.

  • Hue-Man

    Cheese curds. I wish poutine hadn’t migrated across the country. Here’s YELP on Vancouver’s “best” poutine. http://www.yelp.ca/search?find_desc=Best+Poutine&find_loc=Vancouver%2C+BC

    Here’s the main French business daily newspaper article on the Sochi (I mean Sotchi) no-meetings decree. (Tell me again how the vodka boycott didn’t raise awareness in the mainstream media….)

    Le président russe Vladimir Poutine a pris un décret pour renforcer la sécurité à Sotchi
    pour les Jeux olympiques de l’hiver 2014, qui prévoit des restrictions importantes aux libertés de circulation et de réunion, et qui est considéré comme contraire aux droits de
    l’homme par ses opposants. http://www.lesechos.fr/economie-politique/monde/actu/reuters-00544586-un-decret-de-poutine-pour-les-j-o-de-sotchi-suscite-un-tolle-597631.php

  • Duncan Elliott

    The french word for whore is “putain”, not “putin”…

  • Denis

    How can one left out the fact that Poutine is a typical French Canadian meal made with French fries, gravy and cheese?

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