Help a nerd spell her French-language text tattoo correctly, please!
July 5, 2012 6:15 PM   Subscribe

French language nerd wanted! Help a nerd spell her French-language text tattoo correctly, please.

"Vivre sans temps mort et jouir sans entrave" (Live without wasted time and enjoy without hindrance) is the old May 1968 Parisian protest slogan.

In the the version above, the verbs are in the infinitive form. Why? Shouldn't it be "Vivez sans temps mort at jouissez sans entrave"?

And while we're at it, shouldn't it be "temps morts"?

I'm looking for natural, correct use of French, respecting historical context. I'm a nerd and I want my tattoo to be right.

Your thoughts?
posted by Jennifer S. to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Directly translated, it's more "To live without wasted time and to enjoy without hindrance", almost like a toast or a motto rather than an imperative. To me, that's a good thing—it doesn't have the preachiness of the imperative.

Moreover, I think if you want to respect the historical context, you have to use the infinitive forms rather than some sort of hyper-correct back-translation from the English. But I'm not French, so caveat emptor.
posted by The Michael The at 6:27 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wish there were an edit button. I think the part of your statement that matters most is:

I want my tattoo to be right.

What does "right" mean here? That you want the tattoo to match the historical variant of the phrase? Or that you want it to command people to do those things? Either is, to my poorly-trained eye, "correct" French, so you need to decide what "right" means to you.

And please, this is a tattoo, so get at least a few more opinions than mine. I'm poorly conversant and barely literate in French.
posted by The Michael The at 6:32 PM on July 5, 2012

If you use the 2nd person (vivez) rather than the infinitive, it makes it sound like it is something you are telling other people to do. By using the infinitive, it sounds like something you're adopting as a principle.

Regarding singular vs plural: the implicit meaning is:

Vivre sans aucun temps mort et jouir sans aucune entrave - aucun(e) meaning none, which is certainly not plural!
posted by aroberge at 6:34 PM on July 5, 2012

No. The Verbs should be in the infinitive form.
The infinitive is like the subject - the action takes a universal and definitional feel.

Dictionaries use this form: "Know: v. 1. To perceive directly. 2. To regard."

The infinitive form is like: that is what it means, that's what it is all about - that is truth.

To be or not to be.
To forgive is heavenly, to forget is divine.

I like the infinitive form - it has more weight to it, more universality.
(And it is the original quote)
posted by Flood at 6:43 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with Flood.

Also, 'temps' is singular ('le temps'), therefore the adjective remains in the singular.
posted by Dragonness at 6:46 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, the infinitive form. For example, recall this similar adage from the philosopher Conan: "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."
posted by exogenous at 7:06 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

(Advanced student of the language and not a native speaker here:) Using the infinitive is just the way things are said - for instance when you give directions you say "aller quelque part, faire quelque chose," etc. Intuitively it feels like.. as a slogan it is a thing that is done, it's a concept or state of being, rather than an order to someone to do something - using the conjugated form "allez" or "faites" would be giving someone an order, which is kind of direct and kind of rude. It's "to live" rather than "you must live" and by the way, "jouir" is often used in a rather different context. Google it before tattooing it on yourself maybe.

"Temps mort" is correct as "time" is singular therefore the corresponding adjective is singular.
posted by citron at 7:31 PM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

The spelling and grammar of the original are correct. "sans aucun" is redundant. You really do not need those "aucun"s in there.

Jouir is used, not to put too fine a point on it, for orgasm. Yes, it has other meanings, but that one may twist the motto into a sense you didn't quite mean.

I'm pretty sure the 1968 people meant that too.
posted by zadcat at 7:55 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think another question is whether it should be "entrave" or "entraves". Some quick Googling finds that both exist. See this graffitti or this article from (!) for the plural. I haven't been able yet to find official contemporaneous citations of the slogan to check how it was actually being used in 1968.

Also, it appears that "jouir sans entrave(s)" may exist as a phrase/saying in its own right (apart from "vivre sans temps mort"), often referencing matters explicitly sexual (e.g.: this blurb from the author of the book A History of Rape or this article about sexual mores and prostitution).
posted by mhum at 8:25 PM on July 5, 2012

Vivre sans temps mort et jouir sans entrave.

Works with "entraves" or entrave". Both are grammatically correct.
I was born and raised in France and I was 20 in 1968 (OMG!). zadcat is right on all points, but as a statement, the motto covers all meanings of the word "jouir".
posted by bru at 8:35 PM on July 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

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