Week 383: “Sang D’Encre” by Jean Leloup

I’m a big fan of idioms.

They’re fun, they often inspire strange mental images, and they’re a bit like tiny linguistic time capsules, in that they can tell us something about the values of those who spoke the language at the time.

They also have incredible staying power. They hang on in conversational speech long after the phrase itself ceases to have relevance. We describe things that are popular as “selling like hotcakes,” even though hotcakes are a touch less popular today than they were in 1839 when the term was coined. A successful student passes a test “with flying colours” despite probably never having gone to sea and returned with colourful sails to connote victory.

And then there are these awesome turns of phrase from other languages:

  • Armenians who want someone to stop bugging them might say, “stop ironing my head!”
  • In Thailand, someone who is doing a lot of work for very little reward is said to be “riding an elephant to catch a grasshopper.”
  • In Kazakhstan, the beautiful phrase used to express gratitude is, “I see the sun on your back.”

When I first heard this song by Jean Leloup, I didn’t really understand the title, despite having a reasonable working knowledge of (and appreciation for) the French language. When Leloup sang “Je me suis fait un sang d’encre pour toi,” I knew that sang was blood, and encre was ink, but I wasn’t sure what the phrase meant. Had he written a letter in his own blood? Ew.

But in fact the phrase is idiomatic: it means – I hope you’re ready for this – “I made myself into an ink cloud for you.” A more accurate translation would be “I worried myself sick about you,” but I just love the image of a person whose worry has reached such a high level that they poop out an octopus-like ink cloud.

Only someone singing in French could make that sound beautiful.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The guitars have a clanging, echoing, fresh-from-the-yard-sale type of sound.

2. The beauty of the lyrics continue beyond the refrain. I especially like the line at 0:50 that translates to “I’ve got a shoulder infused with magic powers; it can help you cry in the dark.”

3. The overdubbed vocals are charmingly out of synch at times. At 1:34 one voice sings an extra “Appelle-moi” and at 2:11 one voice seems to forget that there was still another verse left to sing, and scrambles to catch up.

Recommended listening activity:

Stuffing the dog. (That’s French-Canadian for “wasting time”…except “stuffing” isn’t the verb they use.)

Buy it here.