Many years ago I came across a fascinating play on words – French in this instance. It may be better described as a clever PUN. I remember it in essence, but not in detail, as having been first sent as an invitation from some high-ranking French gentleman to another of similar status. It takes the form of a written note containing what appears to be a mathematical equation, sent as a question requiring a reply from one gentleman to the other. It was written as follows:
The question appears as the first part of the equation and the reply from the second gentleman follows the equal sign.
You may have come across this before. if not you may wish to attempt to translate the note into words – they will need to be in French!
The translation I was given (I doubt that I managed to work it all out for myself) at the time of first coming across this was:
The opening invitation reads: Ce soir souper a Sans Souci? . . . meaning “Will you dine with me this evening at the Palace of Sanssouci?” (the French ‘sous’ meaning ‘under’)
To which question the reply came back: ” J’ai grand appétit” . . . meaning I have a great appetite.” (‘J’ grand; ‘a’ petit’ being the French for ‘Large letter ‘J’; Small letter ‘a’.)
It was only recently that I came across what is probably the full and correct version – insofar that is as the truth of the whole episode can be verified. I give this fuller, somewhat different version of this story below – together with the deciphered script of the invitation and the subsequent reply.
The top picture is an invitation, which, if you spell out the mathematical sum reads:
à sous p à cent sous si (sous means ‘under’, and cent is 100)
which is a pun on à souper à Sanssouci (to supper in Sanssouci).
Voltaire’s response, “Ja!” is not the German word for “yes” but is another pun:
“J grand, a petit” (large J, small a), pronounced in French “j’ai grand appetit” (I’ve got a large appetite).
Here is the BBC article.