Wordplay in French

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.


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The River Thames Around Hampton Court

As well as the beauty of the riverside and its wildlife, there is much history to be discovered in walking the short space of just over a mile  from the west downstream along the tow-path on the south side of the River Thames towards King Henry VIII’s Palace of Hampton Court.  David Garrick (1717 – 1779) the famous English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer, also a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson, built a mansion on the North bank of the Thames here.  Next to it, in 1756, he built a ‘Temple to honour William Shakespeare’.  Further along the river towards Hampton Court Palace are an ancient cricket ground and the famous Molesey Boat Club, who count the Olympic Gold medallist Searle brothers  among their many distinguished rowers.


David Garrick’s ‘Temple to Shakespeare’


Garrick’s Temple and his mansion


Close-up view of the Temple from across the river


Old Edwardian houseboat – once a floating restaurant


‘Thyme By The River’ cafe


Waterfront outside the Molesey Rowing Club


East Molesey Cricket Ground


Pleasure craft moored approaching Molesey Lock and Hampton Court Bridge 


Hampton Court bridge from the West


Front façade of Hampton Court Palace


One of the smaller Golden Gates at the Palace


Looking to the East from Hampton Court Bridge to the River entrance to the Palace



“The Screaming Lady of the Haunted Gallery”.


My Photograph – taken in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace in 2002

At Hampton Court Palace
One grey Autumn day,
Whilst strolling alone
I wandered astray,
Discovered this phantom,
Too shy to display.

Shroud for a lady,
Hide her away.
No one must see her
Lest somebody say,
She’s only a failure,
She’s long had her day.

But now she is hidden
And no one can see,
Then no one will question
Just who she might be.
They’ll just go on thinking
Perhaps she’s a he.

The fact she is ghostly,
Clothed in a Shroud,
Might give them a hint
That she’s not been allowed
To be seen out in public,
Detached from the crowd.

For in summer when tickets
Are hard to come by,
That’s when they’ll release her
Sustaining the lie.
Produce her in costume
When darkness is nigh.

Then this ‘Screaming Lady’,
As a spirit will glide,
In her Haunted Gallery,
Make-up applied.
Bemoaning, bewailing –
A Queen mortified.

So that’s it for the winter,
Don’t leave her on show.
Come wind and come tempest,
Come rain or come snow,
This tourist attraction’s
The best that I know.

That rival in Scotland,
The fishy old coward,
In a straight contest,
Its legacy soured,
It cannot compare
With our Catherine Howard.


The Grey Lady of Hampton Court

NOTES . . .


Henry VIII’s home at Hampton Court Palace is said to house several distinguished ghosts.


Lady Catherine Howard, Henry’s 5th wife, was accused of adultery and is said to have been dragged to her death, at the age of only 20, through the corridors of the Palace. Her ghost has become known as “The Screaming Lady of the Haunted Gallery”.


Anne Boleyn, Henry’s 2nd wife, who, accused of adultery and incest, was, like Catherine after her, beheaded.   At Hampton Court she is seen wearing a blue dress. She has been described as walking slowly, with a sad countenance.


Dame Sybil Penn, a servant to 4 monarchs, died at the Palace in the 1500s of smallpox, but ever since her tomb was disturbed in 1829, she is said to haunt the Palace as “The Lady in Grey”.


An article containing the above photograph, can be read by clicking on this link to:  Hampton Court’s Lady In Grey