Les mots juste

A Fred Vargas crime novel is at the top of the To Be Read pile. I could not resist buying one of the French historian's pseudonymous policiers after reading an interviewer's description:

"Her work is like a baked Camembert among the smorgasbord of chilly Scandinavian realism that dominates the foreign crime fiction market... comfort food for the sophisticated palate." Also: she writes a book in three weeks flat! (And then spends months revising.)

It is taking me a while to get used to Vargas' translated rhythms. And of course that is making me think about language.

Swim. The English word is knifelike, shallow-diving into silver water, trailing foam. Je nage, with its soft consonants, treads sunlit aquamarine water slowly.

Bread sounds heavy and imperative, du pain crisp and precise. Give me an aubergine over eggplant, though I prefer the pep of zucchini to the pulpy dullness of la courgette.

I still feel my younger, pupil self's puzzlement when I try to say numbers in French (I have to multiply and then add after 80?) or break down the year to name it (and figure out hyphens...) Mille neuf cent quatre vingt dix-neuf. Sigh.

The dog, in my imagination, lies curled by the fire or plods earnestly toward me with a duck in its soft mouth; le chien is touchy, toothy and fierce.

Un livre lingers, suggesting promise, while a book thumps onto an imaginary desk. I long to know, and never will, so many more ways to say it.