Shiver me timbers!

Discussion dans 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' démarrée par Riel, 3 avril 2007.

  1. Riel New Member

    Canada english
    How do you say "Shiver me timbers!" in french? The closest translation that I've been able to find is: "Frissoner mon bois!" , but, my girlfriend, who has a Quebecois background, has teased me about it and warned me not to use this phrase in Quebec.
     
  2. meck New Member

    Vancouver, WA, USA
    USA, English
    (Advanced warning - this is a long dissertation on this phrase and oaths in general, and I still don't have a final answer for you!)

    That's a tough one - there likely isn't any direct translation. Here's some background on this:

    There are lots of ideas about where that phrase came from, but it seems to have been an oath back in the days of wooden sailing ships, in the same vein as "Cross my heart!" or "I Swear to God!". It is in the subjunctive, which isn't terribly obvious in English. The "timbers" refer to the wooden planks and masts of the ship, and "to shiver" means a rocking or shuddering as in bad weather or when striking something. So let's assume you owed a fellow sailor 3 casks of wine. He asks if he can trust that you will deliver the wine. "Shiver me timbers!", or "May my timbers shiver if I don't follow through."

    A direct translation would be "Que mes bois frissonnent!" but that would probably have no contextual meaning for a French speaker. A more traditional and solemn oath would be "Que Dieu me pardonne", but that doesn't have the funny nuances that "Shiver me timbers" has.

    Now here's the disappointing part - I don't have any real knowledge of French oaths, but hopefully this background will help a native speaker give you something to work with.
     
  3. Tresley

    Tresley Senior Member

    Yorkshire / United Kingdom
    British English
    Hello Riel,

    Welcome to Word Reference.

    Meck did a great job explaining the background to 'shiver my timbers'. Thank you Meck.

    I have had a look in my French-English dictionaries to see if any of them could offer a translation. I was very doubtful that I would find anything, however, in my Oxford Hachette French-English dictionary it offers the following translation for the idiom:

    'Que le diable m'emporte'

    This literally means 'May the devil take me away'.

    I agree with Meck, that we really need something with a 'funny nuance' to translate 'Shiver my timbers', so I'm not so sure that 'Que le diable m'emporte' quite captures the flavour of the English expression.

    I wonder how this expression was translated into French in the book 'Treasure Island' (by Robert Louis Stevenson). Long John Silver is famous for saying 'shiver my timbers' in this book.

    I hope this helps anyway.
     
  4. meck New Member

    Vancouver, WA, USA
    USA, English
    Tresley, Thank you for the good idea about Treasure Island!

    The complete text in French is available at Wikisource (fr.wikisource.org/wiki/L%E2%80%99%C3%8Ele_au_tr%C3%A9sor)

    In Part 6, Chapter 28, the passage in English is:

    "So," said he, "here's Jim Hawkins, shiver my timbers! Dropped in, like, eh? Well, come, I take that friendly."

    In French:
    – Ainsi donc, fit Silver, voilà Jim Hawkins, mort de mes os ! En visite, on dirait, hé ? Allons, soit, je prends la chose amicalement.

    The timbers here refer to the bones. So in this context, it means an expression of disbelief, as in "Well, I'll be damned!", which is very similar to "Que le diable m'emporte!".

    But I don't know how "Mort de mes os!" sounds to a French ear...
     
  5. Tresley

    Tresley Senior Member

    Yorkshire / United Kingdom
    British English
    YAY! Now that's what I call trans-Atlantic teamwork! Well done Meck!

    I also remembered that Captain Haddock used to say 'Shiver my timbers' in the Tintin cartoons, so I have tried to find out what the expression is in the original French.

    So far, I have found this link:

    http://www3.sympatico.ca/brooksdr/haddock/1.htm

    The next to last paragraph says that Captain Haddock's curse in French is 'Mille millions de mille sabords'. It appears that an English equivalent is 'Shiver my timbers'.
     
  6. charverz Member

    English Canada
    Doesn't Haddock also use "Tonnerre de Brest!"?
     
  7. Riel New Member

    Canada english
    Bonjour tout le monde (Ahoy me hearties!), thank you Meck, Tresley and Charverz for your replies to my inquiries about "Shiver me timbers". Some interesting ideas for certain. I'm quite the sailor-man myself at times, and I've learned over the years that this particular oath refers to the manuever of turning a square-sailing ship into the wind to change course. During that change of course you have to move the sails that are set across the wind and for a short time while the yards are being re-set the sails luff in the wind (or flap-about like a sheet in the wind), this in turn makes the yards and masts vibrate and the ship as well. So, this became an oath of exclamation, surprise and dismay amoungst the sailor types for some time since. Interesting eh? Merci encore, a plus tard! Riel
     
  8. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    Forgive me for resurrecting such an old thread but in my devotion to the forum I felt I had to correct the above, which is spurious.

    The verb "shiver" does not only mean 'to quake' or 'shudder.' It has another, older meaning, which is "to break into small bits, to splinter."

    This is why a sailor exclaiming "shiver me timbers" is akin, as in the translation cited, to Que le diable m'emporte! If the 'timbers,' the wood of the ship on which he's sailing, were to 'shiver,' break into little pieces, then he'd be dead and, given the lives of most sailors, probably making the acquaintance of some rank of infernal justicier.
     
  9. Bruceliand New Member

    Paris
    French - France
    That is really a fascinating discussion. It made me think of Dom Juan, whose most frequent (devious) oath is: "Que le Ciel me foudroie!" ("May God strike me!" or "May God blast me!"). In such a sailing context, it would turn into: "Que ma coque se brise!"
     
  10. franc 91 Senior Member

    France
    English - GB
    How about - que mes membrures se fissurent - when I think of the all yachts that are now made of fibre-glass (tous ces bateaux en plastique) shiver my fibres might be more appropriate.
     
  11. Bruceliand New Member

    Paris
    French - France
    "Que mes membrures se fissurent" sounds very poetical indeed, and keeps the rhyme of "Shiver me timbers". Well done! The only remaining problem is the one you mentioned, regarding the materiality itself of the boat. "Membrures" does not really apply to wood. "Veinures" is not explicit. And "voilures", which is self-explaining, would be a bit strange. But we are clearly moving on!
     
  12. franc 91 Senior Member

    France
    English - GB
    What makes you say that - membrures certainly are made of wood (though in cargo ships they're made of steel) I had my head up against a couple when I sailed on the Sainte Jeanne from Erquy to Saint Hélier.
     
  13. Bruceliand New Member

    Paris
    French - France
    Well, you are certainly right for the correctness of the term; I have no expertise in sailing, and you obviously have. What I was just saying is that for a usual French ear "membrures" would not suggest wood as "timbers" so obviously does. "Membrures" rather suggests other kinds of materiality. Out of the context, it is difficult to understand that one talks of a boat if you say in French "que mes membrures se fissurent". And to me, the whole point seems to preserve the obvious image of a boat. However, to me, "que mes membrures se fissurent" is probably one of the best translations so far.
     
  14. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    Qu'éclatent les planches ???
     
  15. Dirty Barry New Member

    English
    Que mon mât éclat ???? Similar to above yet rhyming.
     
  16. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    IdF
    French (lower Normandy)
    Hi Dirty Barry and welcome to the forums :)

    Except that "mât" (ending with a silent t) doesn't rhyme with "éclate" ;)
     
  17. Dirty Barry New Member

    English
    Thanks. Oh well, back to the drawing board.
     
  18. Dirty Barry New Member

    English
    My revised effort:-
    Mille éclats de mon mât ???? Using the mille sabords idea, together with éclat as a noun ?????
     

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