On Pronouncing "Les Deux"

This next post is not exactly about grammar, nor is it about the English language. However, it falls within the lines of several topics we discuss. (And I can guarantee at least one reader, Lee, is going to love the topic!)

There is a club in Los Angeles called Les Deux. It’s very popular with celebrities. “Les Deux” is French for both, or, literally, “the two.” It is (roughly) pronounced lay DUH.

I got roped into watching The Hills one day with my roommates, and Lauren Conrad pronounced it “la DOO.” That surprised me.

I just chalked it up to her being, well, dumb. The stars of The Hills aren’t exactly future rocket scientists.

A few months later, I had to call the club for work.

I’m always deliberately vague of what, exactly, I do for work, but I can tell you that it involves a lot of VIP access, exclusive offers, nightlife, that kind of thing, mostly in Las Vegas but also in Los Angeles, New York and worldwide. (Going to Vegas? I’ll hook you UP.) I was trying to get a table at Les Deux for one of my clients a few weeks ago.

I dialed the number.

“Hello, la DOO.”

I was thrown through a loop. Apparently, everyone pronounced it this way.

I spoke to the manager and arranged the table for my client. I was dying of curiosity, so I had to ask her:

“Tell me,” I began, “why do all of you pronounce it la DOO?”

She paused. “That’s how it’s pronounced.”

“Well,” I said gingerly, “actually, in French, it’s pronounced lay DUH. It means both.”

“Oh,” she said. “That’s just how it’s always been.”

I didn’t lecture her or anything. I wasn’t about to do that.

Anyway, I have a point to all this.

This is similar to people who insist that “everytime” is a word, that “everyday” is interchangeable with “every day,” that “definately” is the correct spelling. These are very basic errors. People know that they are being incorrect, but they choose to continue to be incorrect rather than to learn how to do the right thing.

Keep in mind that I do not expect people to know how to pronounce French words. That’s not fair. I do, however, expect the staff to pronounce their nightclub’s name correctly. If the staff gets it right, the world will follow. If it’s the cool place to be, everyone will try to outdo each other by pronouncing the word perfectly. Enough of my clients try to pronounce La Esquina or Felidia with ethnic flair, thinking it makes them sound authentic.

One last thing: le DOO is how someone would pronounce le doux, meaning “the sweet.” So maybe that’s another meaning to the club’s name.

Do you have thoughts on this?

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23 responses to “On Pronouncing "Les Deux"

  1. Making an effort to get things right is what counts – I speak Spanish, quite well, I think, but not perfectly, of course. Heck, my English isn’t perfect either. People appreciate when you make the effort to speak their language. Native speakers are happy to help you learn their language, so ask them for advice. I would love to know how many native French speakers work at Les Deux, and what they have to say about the pronunciation. I would guess that there are none – I understand the French are very protective of the “purity” of their language.

  2. So, I’m going to make a phonetic comparison to English to try to understand you, the Grammar Vandal, better:

    Are you saying that the French “deux” is pronunced like the English interjection “duh”? And so you are saying that the workers at the restaurant pronounce the French “deux” like the English verb “do”?

    I don’t speak French, but I could also see how Americans might associate pronunciations from one of the popular interjections among Americans–“adieu” (found in the American Heritage Dictionary, even though the word was taken from … French? The dictionary says “adieu” is pronounced “ə-dyōō’, ə-dōō’,” which may possibly make some (American) people think that “deux” closer to English noun “dew,” which would consequently associate the pronunciation of the verb “do.”

    Am I just silly or does someone see any logic in my thoughts?

  3. I included the word “roughly” because I know that “duh” is not an exact pronunciation of “deux.” That’s pretty close to it, but not perfect.

    I’m no expert on phonetics, and I don’t have the patience to learn how to type out an upside-down e on my blog, so I gave an approximation. Looks like the blog won’t even accept strange characters.

    The Quebecois pronounce it with a bit of “dih” while some might say that the French pronounce like the “du” in “during,” or with the “ir” sound from “third.”

    I guess it makes sense that people think it’s pronounced like “adieu.” That’s a popular French word.

    However, this is another instance of allowing the ignorant masses to dictate what is said, even though it’s incorrect.

  4. Quite true, Kate.

  5. When/How do variants become “correct”?

  6. The whole problem is that the sound you have to produce in order to say “deux” correcly is not in the English phoneme inventory, ahem, i.e. this sound doesn’t exist in English. Just the same, non-native speakers of English often have problems with the English pronunciation of “r” and “th”.
    I learned French at school and can pronounce it pretty well so, Kate, you are quite right with your hint to pronouce the French “eu”-sound a little bit like the “ir” in “third”, but you must minimize the rolling “r”, of course. Everything clear?

  7. Thank you, junior alien.

  8. I tried to give you a trackback, but I’m not sure I know what one of those is.

    But I did love the post, and responded at my blog .

  9. There are plenty of examples where a mispronunciation of a foreign word or phrase has become standard – Notre Dame, for instance. French speakers would pronounce it “no-truh dahm”, but in this country it is and always will be “noh-ter daym”. No doubt the ears of Francophones are offended every time those words are uttered, but it’s become a fixture.

  10. I am going to learn so much about proper grammar reading your blog… Thanks Kate!

    Oh… And you’re right… It is definitely “lay-doo” and not “la-doo.”

  11. I just stumbled upon your blog today, and as an English degree holder and a technical writer, I’d like to say one thing:

    Rawr.

    Love me some good grammar (even as I choose not to use it). I’m linking you.

  12. This kind of stuff makes me crazy. While there are certain pronunciations that are difficult for native English speakers we should at least make an effort to approximate the correct pronunciation. I’ve only been to Paris twice but I’ve never had a problem speaking with people. I suspect this is because they see I’m doing the best I can. When in doubt I ask someone how to say a word I’m unsure of. Most Parisians have been extraordinarily patient as I repeat the word to them. The only time I’ve experienced what some people think of as a ‘typically Parisian’ type attitude was at Le Bon Marche (a department store). I was looking for the public restroom. On the map of the store I could see that it was just behind the Lingerie Dept. I approached a saleswoman and asked ‘Ou est le Lingerie?’ pronouncing the word as we do here in the US – ‘lahnjherAY.’ She looked me up and down and then said, ‘lahnzhairrEE.’ Slightly embarrassing. However I’d never pronounce it correctly here at home. Re-read Furpurrson’s post re Notre Dame & you’ll understand why.

  13. Agreed, Margaret and furpurrson. No matter how much of a stickler you are, if you say, “My cousin got a football scholarship to Noh-trah Dahm,” people are going to give you weird looks. “No-derr Daym” has become an entity of its own.

  14. Just call me Joe

    I live in Pierre, South Dakota, where the locals insist on pronouncing the community name as, “peer.” I always pronounce it as pea-air, just like a gay Frenchman, just to torque them off.

  15. If you’re ever headed down Interstate 80 for the big Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, PA and you’re wondering which exit to use and your run-on sentence is running out of gas and you want the DuBois, PA exit, be sure to pronounce it “Doo BOYS” :-) By the way, how did the Native Americans pronounced Punxsutawney?

    Jim Dodd, a former native of Western Pennsylvania

  16. As an Englishnman who learned (I used to say “learnt”) French a long time ago with roughly the same pronunciation as the French, my ears cringe whenever I hear the language butchered on American tv.
    Things like sauvignonn blonk for sauvignon blanc, dyoo for deux, noderr dame, boo-coo for beaucoup, etc.

  17. haha. great post. just curious, how much did it cost?

  18. I’m not quite sure off the top of my head, Lindsey, but for four people (and women MUST outnumber men!) I think it’s a two-bottle minimum with bottles starting at $300.00-350.00. And the cheapest bottles are Absolut and Bacardi.

    I really don’t understand the point of bottle service. It’s so outrageously expensive. (Though my friends and I did have fun when we crashed a table at Saint a few months ago, before the staff kicked us out. Hehehe.)

  19. hahaha thanks for the info kate!

  20. I purposely looked for a post about this because it was driving me so crazy. I too am from Canada and learned Francais at an early age. I can’t understand how Americans can pronounce it Lay Doo…I am a huge fan of the hills but it drives me crazy. It wouldn’t take them very much effort to seek out how it is actually pronounced and give it a shot. While I don’t want to group all Americans together with a general statement, as a whole they are fairly ignorant to cultures excluding their own. JMO

  21. I would imagine the confusion comes from a lack of understanding the difference between “le doux” and “les deux”, as you mentioned. I have heard “le DOO” before; not sure where, but I have, so I could see where that might come from. Plus, it’s much easier to say “doo” than to try and make the “deux” sound. I can only imagine the terror that would ensue if they were to begin saying the name correctly…

    “Is this Lay Doo?”

    “It’s Les Deux.”

    “Lay Doh?”

    “Les Deux.”

    “Leh Duh?”

    “Les Deux.”

    “Fuck this. I wanted a club, not a grammar lesson.”

    “Thank you for calling Les Deux.”

  22. I live in Canada, and not a part where people know French, but many people pronounce Notre Dame as “notra dahm”. Many people say “noder dame” too, but it’s pretty much interchangeable here, no one will notice if you say it differently than them.

  23. Different spin here on similar subject…
    I am quite annoyed with people who try to pronounce foreign words differently, when there is no need to do so.
    The one that I often hear is “repertoire”. In French, the “r” at the end is pronounced. Yet, most Americans that I hear leave the “r” off at the end (because they know other French words leave the last constanant silent apparently).

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