French Letters or Letters in French

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Daffodil100

Senior Member
Chinese
Last week, our company was going to export some goods to France, but the Chinese forwarder told us that they were unable to input the address into their computer system because there are several letters in French, i.e. à,ç,é.
Just now I created a thread in the French forum of Wordreference. The quoted text is a part of my post.

Originally I wrote there are several French letters, but later I changed it to there are several letter in French, because I learned French letter can refer to condom in English slang.

I wonder if I wrote several French letters, would it look funny to native speakers of English?

Here's the URL link about French letter in slang
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=french%20letter

Thanks!
 
  • Sharifa345

    Senior Member
    USA
    US English, DR Spanish
    I literally have never heard, seen, or personally used the term "French letters" to talk about a condom. If you wrote "French letters," I would 100% assume you were speaking of letters in the French alphabet.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    It should be pointed out, I think, that à,ç,and é are not French letters in the same sense that ñ is a Spanish letter or ö is a Swedish letter. The accents are not included when reciting the French alphabet: c, for example, is not a separate letter from ç. Instead, what is involved here are "letters with accent marks" or "letters with diacritics," and you could specify "French accent marks."
     

    compaqdrew

    Senior Member
    English - AE
    I also have never heard of the euphemism, but I take Copyright's word that it is common.

    I am likely to assume that "letters in French" refers to personal correspondance in the French language, not letters of the alphabet, if there is no advance context to make it clear. As mplsray has said, the letters you're talking about are not specific to French.

    I would say "non-english characters" in this situation.
     

    Michelvar

    Quasimodo
    French / France
    It should be pointed out, I think, that à,ç,and é are not French letters in the same sense that ñ is a Spanish letter or ö is a Swedish letter. The accents are not included when reciting the French alphabet: c, for example, is not a separate letter from ç. Instead, what is involved here are "letters with accent marks" or "letters with diacritics," and you could specify "French accent marks."
    Very true! They are not specific letters, but "accented letters".
     

    CrazyGeek

    Member
    Vietnamese
    So just depend on the context that we can understand "French letters" as condom or the literal meaning itself?
    I think the thread starter can use "French letters" to mean what he wants!
     

    inib

    Senior Member
    British English
    Not common, just known. :)
    I don't know about USA, but in Britain, in the 70's and 80's (maybe before, I don't know) a "french letter" was widely used in the sense of condom.
    But I agree that we are not actually talking about French letters here, but accent marks.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I don't know about USA, but in Britain, in the 70's and 80's (maybe before, I don't know) a "french letter" was widely used in the sense of condom.
    But I agree that we are not actually talking about French letters here, but accent marks.
    Yes, but that was 25 or 30 years ago, and you had to be about 15, I would think, so maybe 40-year-olds are familiar with it (or maybe younger). As for the U.S., I doubt if anyone who isn't a reader of fine literature knows the term, no matter what age they are :) -- but I admit I'm guessing.

    Although context will tell us which of the two is intended, as CrazyGeek notes, I don't think you want to use a double entendre if you can avoid it. As an example, it's a bit hard to read this fishing article from the Grimsby News with a straight face:

    Harold Jackson, an angler with a wealth of experience, had the right idea – a big feeder and stiff rod which he launched into the lilies, where the bream were lying.

    Beware the lying bream. :)
     
    Last edited:

    inib

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, but that was 25 or 30 years ago, and you had to be about 15, I would think, so maybe 40-year-olds are familiar with it (or maybe younger). As for the U.S., I doubt if anyone who isn't a reader of fine literature knows the term, no matter what age they are :) -- but I admit I'm guessing.

    Although context will tell us which of the two is intended, as CrazyGeek notes, I don't think you want to use a double entendre if you can avoid it. As an example, it's a bit hard to read this fishing article from the Grimsby News with a straight face:

    Harold Jackson, an angler with a wealth of experience, had the right idea – a big feeder and stiff rod which he launched into the lilies, where the bream were lying.

    Beware the lying bream. :)
    Your calculations are right, and of course that was just the age when it seemed essential to acquire a varied vocabulary on the subject:D.
    I just love the Grimsby News excerpt, but I am still not quite clear as to whether the fish were recumbent or telling big fibs!
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    The term was used a fair bit when I was in secondary school in the late 1970s, so that matches up with what inib says. Maybe it is (was) less used in AmE? The term would certainly be a distraction ... unless of course you want people to be distracted! ;)

    I would talk about 'special characters for French'.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I knew the word growing up as an AE speaker, but only from reading books written in the U.K. long before I was born.

    That said, "accented letters" not only avoids any possible double entendre, but is also the correct description of the problem.

    However, if the computer that the forwarder uses and its software are from any time after (say) the 1970s, I'd say it's probably more a question of "don't know how to" than "were unable to."
     
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