Le mot intello : « quiproquo »

9 Fév

Nothing like doing a little overtime and starting my workday at 7:00 am without coffee…
Coffee (or tea) has a wonderful effect on me: the soothing warmth, the spicy scent, the strong taste and of course… the caffeine! It is also the interpreter’s (or translator’s) required beverage before starting the day, because it might help align all the pathways in the brain and ensure optimal performance (or placebo?). Like a fuel and stimulant to my “cervelle”. Thankfully, in the meantime (and until my first morning break), I have a wonderful home-made banana nut muffin to keep me happy.

But it doesn’t help to start the day with a perfectly normal call, where I am required to interpret in the first person, and my client decides to:

1)      Have me coach the “applicant” (I can’t do that, I am a neutral interpreter, I am your voice, remember?)

2)      Speak in the third person when I am required to interpret in the first person (The French speaker was actually applying for another lady, but I was not told that, and my client would say “she” regardless of talking about my L.E.P. – Limited English Proficiency person – or the actual applicant)

3)      Get upset when I did not do what he “meant” (“I asked you to have her spell out her name, not have her write it down”… But they are in front of each other, face to face, the sound quality is awful and the LEP can’t hear me well even when I speak loud, and I have to repeat everything 3 times… Didn’t it make sense to “spell the name out” on paper?)

Anyway, especially when interpreting by phone, since a lot of clients refuse to use the first person even though I explain that I will be (and I obviously do), we get “pronoun confusion” and into a complete qui pro quo (or originally “Quid pro quo”) situation: who? Whose? What? She, he, his, her, mine, yours…

Here is the French definition from Marie-Éva de Villers’s Multidictionnaire:

// Quiproquo // nom masculin [kiproko] : Méprise au sujet d’une personne, d’une chose. Ex. Des quiproquos regrettables. *Ne pas confondre avec malentendu, erreur d’interprétation

According to the Antidote dictionary: Erreur qui fait qu’on prend une personne ou une chose pour une autre.

In English, the meaning has actually taken on other meanings, so careful not to get into a misunderstanding about the “quiproquos”…:

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo (Photo credit: Jon Gosier)

Quid pro quo (« what for what » in Latin[1]) most often means a more-or-less equal exchange or substitution of goods or services. English speakers often use the term to mean « a favour for a favour » and the phrases with almost identical meaning include: « give and take », « tit for tat« , « this for that », and « you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours ».

In legal usage, quid pro quo indicates that an item or a service has been traded in return for something of value, usually when the propriety or equity of the transaction is in question.

Quid pro quo may sometimes be used to define a misunderstanding or blunder made by the substituting of one thing for another, particularly in the context of the transcribing of a text.[3] In this alternate context, the phrase qui pro quo is more correct (see below).

The phrase qui pro quo, or quiproquo (from medieval Latin: literally « qui instead of quo« ), is common in languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French, where it means a *misunderstanding.[4][5] In those languages, the phrase corresponding to the usage of quid pro quo in English is do ut des (Latin for « I give so that you may give »).

 (Source: Wikipedia)

*Careful wikipedia, that is not technically correct… A misunderstanding, means an “error of interpretation”, i.e. I misheard what the teacher said, and understood she meant for us to write in blue, but she said black ; “un quiproquo” means “to have taken someone or something for someone/ something else”, i.e. I thought it was Paul calling, and 3 minutes into the conversation, I realized it was Pierre.

Some quotes (for usage examples) in the French language:

  • C’est pour éviter les non-dits et les quiproquos qu’on multiplie les réunions de mise au point.
  • Force est cependant de constater que la réussite de l’opération repose sur unquiproquo savamment entretenu.
  • Prétexte à une kyrielle de quiproquos amoureux et mondains sur fond de valses viennoises et de czardas magyares, l’opérette reste un modèle du genre.

Happy « Quiproquo »-free Thursday!

Une Réponse to “Le mot intello : « quiproquo »”


  1. Le mot intello : « Le mépris et la méprise » « Le mot du (bon)jour - juillet 13, 2012

    […] Le mot intello : ” quiproquo “ (lemotdubonjour.com) […]


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