On some Monday nights when I am in Seattle, I go to a “pub quiz”, or perhaps “trivia night”, at a Capitol Hill vegan restaurant/bar called “the Highline”. (I’m not sure what the name refers to, but there seems to be some sort of freight train theme in the place, so perhaps it’s a tribute to Paragons of American Industry such as Burlington Northern – Santa Fe et al). The place is run by long-haired dreadlocked crusties, though the trivia night attracts primarily heavily-tattooed former straight-edgers and recently-turned-21 scenesters.
As I say, this is a vegan place, and the type of food served is chiefly sandwiches, along with things like potato salad and french fries. Normally the music is b-grade 80s regional hardcore, and sometimes early UK crust à la Rudimentary Peni. My associate Collin has told me that sometimes fistfights break out among the patrons in there. What do you think vegans brawl over? Who’s more compassionate?
The trivia night is already a little strange, as free pitchers of beer are awarded by the bartender to teams who have racist or sexist names. I’m not good at coming up with these, so I abstain and get berated by my team-mates, who cry “You’re costing us a pitcher!”. Secondly, there are usually a few teams full of tattooed 21-yr olds who look up all the answers on their cell phones and then shout them out. Finally, the quizmaster is fond of asking questions where the answer is based on something he saw on the internet, not on his personal knowledge or greater reality.
Take for example last night. One of the rounds was “French”: despite the host’s admitted inability to converse in said language, he gave us ten questions in which he would say a word or phrase and ask us to write the French translation. Being a French speaker, I naturally lept at the occasion to put my knowledge to use, and my team-mates grinned and rubbed their hands together fiendishly, knowing that we had the round ‘in the bag’.
Question one: the host, Dustin, let loose: “How do you say in fashion, stylish in French?”
Observe my response: à la mode.
Imagine my rage when I heard that answer was incorrect, and that the correct answer was chic. Friends, I do not dispute that chic means in fashion, stylish, but it is also undeniable that à la mode means in fashion, stylish. The quizmaster, who doesn’t speak a word of French, disqualified à la mode since it was not what the internet told him. The team next to us, which comprised a bunch of plus-sized teens with tattoos, alongside a fiftysomething Moroccan immigrant who claimed to be a French speaker, told us disdainfully: “A la mode means on the side.” Three of four of them jumped in, proclaiming “Yeah dude! It means on the side!”. We asked the Moroccan woman who claimed to speak French, and she told us “A la mode means on the side!”.
Exhibit A: Google translate. Not the most reliable of translations, in general, but read ’em and weep:
Exhibit B: à la mode loc adj [vêtement] fashionable, in fashion… (Larousse French-English Dictionary, 1993)
Exhibit C: online dictionary:
à la mode
- Fashionable; in the current style or fashion. (Wiktionary, 2011).
(They also note: (US) Served with ice cream-!)
Exhibit D: Press clippings.
– Les mots à la mode: webcam. J’sais pas si c’est vraiment à la mode, mais j’ai envie d’en causer. (Lacroute, Le Monde, 2011).
MEANS: Words in fashion, Cool words: I dunno if it’s really in fashion, but I want to talk about it…
DOES NOT MEAN: Words on the side. I dunno if it’s really on the side… / Words served with ice cream.
– Héroïne, cocaïne : “Le snif est à la mode” (Le Monde, 2010)
MEANS: Heroin, cocaine: Snorting is cool/stylish/in fashion.
DOES NOT MEAN: Snorting is on the side. Snorting is served with ice cream.
– Vie de chiens à la mode. (Le Monde, 1997).
This is a sort of play on words, but we can say it means something like “Dog style”, not “Dogs on the side” or “(US) Dogs served with ice cream”.
– L’appareil photo Canon 5D, très à la mode en ce moment, existe depuis deux ans. (Libération, 2011).
MEANS: The Canon 5D camera, very fashionable/cool/stylish at the moment, has already been out for two years.
I could go on for a while, but you get the picture.
We won the game in any case, pauvres cons (that means ‘worthy opponents’ in French).