Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

This blue book, Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames is a real treasure. I was ecstatic when I found it. When I was browsing in a used book shop in Melbourne, I found it on a shelf labeled “Books on Books”, but I’m not sure that’s where it belongs—or where it possibly could belong, for that matter! The whole volume is an esoteric joke aimed at native speakers of English who have studied French.

The book purports to be the publication of a mysterious manuscript of French poems the author discovered. He has annotated the poems in English with deadpan comments on the meanings of the French words.

In fact, as the author knows full well, the poems are more or less nonsense when translated from French, but if you pronounce them in French, they sound like a French speaker reciting Mother Goose rhymes! Case in point: The title of the volume, if you read it in a French accent, sounds like “Mother Goose Rhymes”.

Intrigued? There is a wonderful rabbit-hole of related phenomena you can happily fall into if you click the Wikipedia page for Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames.

If you are a social person and you want to have fun with this kind of language trick using just English, try the game Mad Gab.

Example cards from the game:

sea grit dress up ease = secret recipes
ice mail ask hunk = I smell a skunk
canoe key pace he gret = can you keep a secret
sand tack laws = Santa Claus
thigh sing gone thick ache = the icing on the cake

If you’re an introverted student of French and you want to experience the joy of deciphering Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames all by yourself, there are used copies of various editions of the book available through Amazon and Abebooks. You can’t have mine.

My 12th-grade French teacher used to write these “French poems” in a corner of the whiteboard to challenge us. I specifically remember “Little Miss Moffat”. Years later, feeling nostalgic, I looked online for a copy of a book they came from, but buying a copy of the out-of-print volume looked like it was going to be expensive, so I shelved that ambition. In 2009, HarperCollins reissued the work, but—tragically!—it went out of print again before I even noticed. To stumble across it by accident was a fantastic stroke of luck, especially given the price (AU$7) and condition (fantastic).

Maybe you already have the book, and you’ve tried to match the “French poems” to Mother Goose Rhymes, and you’re stumped. After all, the author is quite coy. Though he credits Mother Goose in the bibliography at the end of the book, he never clearly says that the poems are actually English Mother Goose rhymes, so of course he doesn’t list the answers; you are supposed to work them out yourself. If, however, you are fed up with trying to work them out yourself, and you’re here looking for the answers, then you, too have had a stroke of luck. I’ve worked them out for you.

See the answer key below for a list of the names of the 40 nursery rhymes disguised in Mots D’Heures: Gousses Rames.

Answer key for Mots D’Heures: Gousses Rames

I recognized many of these by reading the first line aloud to myself. However, in some cases (Lock the Dairy Door, Curly Locks, Cross Patch, and perhaps unsurprisingly the one about the little man with the gun), I wasn’t familiar with the nursery rhyme at all. I just Googled whatever distinct English words I could recognize, and the magic of the internet got me the relevant title.

  1. Humpty Dumpty
  2. Old King Cole
  3. Hey Diddle Diddle
  4. Old Mother Hubbard
  5. There Was a Little Man and He Had a Little Gun
  6. Hickory Dickory Dock
  7. Jack Sprat
  8. Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater
  9. There Was a Crooked Man
  10. Little Miss Moffat
  11. Jack and Jill
  12. There Was a Little Girl She Had a Little Curl
  13. Little Jack Horner
  14. Ride a Cockhorse to Banbury Cross
  15. Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor
  16. Rain Rain Go Away
  17. Paddy Cake Paddy Cake
  18. Mistress Mary Quite Contrary
  19. Roses Are Red Violets Are Blue
  20. Tom Tom the Piper’s Son
  21. Mary Had a Little Lamb
  22. Cross Patch Draw the Latch
  23. See Saw Margery Daw
  24. The Queen of Hearts She Made Some Tarts
  25. One Two Buckle My Shoe
  26. There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
  27. Ladybird Ladybird Fly Away Home
  28. Monday’s Child
  29. Lucy Locket
  30. Curly Locks
  31. Here Is the Church Here Is the Steeple
  32. Simple Simon
  33. I Do Not Like Thee Doctor Fell
  34. Pussycat Pussycat
  35. Little Bo Peep
  36. Baa Baa Black Sheep
  37. Polly Put the Kettle On
  38. Lock the Dairy Door
  39. This Little Pig Went to Market
  40. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

When and Why I Read Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames

My second high-school French teacher had a copy of this book, and now I do, too!

Genre: Reference/French? Humor!
Date started / date finished: 26-Jan-2018 / 27-Jan-2018
Length: 68
ISBN: 0207949913
Originally published in: 1967/1971
Amazon link: Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames