In English we say “I miss you.” In French they say “Tu me manques,” which we translate as “I miss you,” though the I and the you are reversed.
The French word derives from the Latin mancus: “maimed, powerless.” So the French are really saying: “You maim me. You make me powerless.”
What is it about the English Channel that renders the difference?
For whatever reason, the English were fonder of dictionaries and etymologies over the last few centuries than the French, and so we have more etymology for “miss” :
Circa 500 A.D., we have the Old English missan: “fail to hit, miss (a mark); fail in what was aimed at; escape (someone’s notice).”
This from the older Proto-Germanic missjan, “to go wrong” which stems from missa– , “in a changed manner” from a Proto-Indo-European root mei– “to change.”
So far back enough, both French and English “miss” and “manque” share this root of change, and yet the intentionality and agency of that change are reversed, you to me, and me to you, across the English Channel, la Manche (the Sleeve).
Have you failed to hit your mark, that is me?
I have failed to hit my mark, you. Love’s arrow misses when it hits, and hits when it misses.
Hits and misses.
Love and violence, absence and fondness, across the Sleeve, your lips―
You maim me. You hit me. So for the French the miss is a hit; missed with the arrow we hit with the miss, a near-fatal blow, only one look and you’re gone, that redhead or brunette, she may not have hit you with the crossbow but she hit you with her eyes, and vice versa…
But the French is also simpler and more imperative: in making a statement about the self, you speak about the other, and so it is also quite literal. I miss you, but I say, “you lack me.” The impresario French, wishing it were so in every subjunctive clause, as though the tongue could change the universe….I lack you but I’ll say it is you who lack me in the hope that it will be so…
English being the more practical and less romantic. “I miss you” a simple statement, more honest, and more vulnerable.
But then English carries with it the double meaning too: “I miss you” ― that is, confronted with the opportunity to hit you with an actual arrow, I shall miss, because of my love for you. And so I miss you twice, with my arrow, with my heart.
But the French tu me manques, “you lack me” or “you maim me” suggests that the battle is over before it was started, the bows were never drawn, because love made it unnecessary.
But no, this is wrong. It is no accident Sadism is French, and Masochism too, because tu me manques also means “you did fire the arrow, into my chest, and I am maimed, for this reason I love you.” The French need the bloodshed, and the English seem leery of it, at least etymologically.
But why this I and you? Why do the French speak of you and mean I, while the English mean you when they say you?
Of course you and I are relative terms, in the long run. When I am you and you are me, who is to say, it is a stuttering frequency, long loved and oft regarded, held close in the balls, and in the tyrants of the soil, eternity―
But the French and English tale is told with arrows, isn’t it? You know the tale of the middle finger, or, as the Brits do it, the two fingers, both referring to the English victory at the Battle of Agincourt in the 15th Century, the “flower of French nobility” struck down by a bunch of thick-armed Welshmen and their longbows.
And so the English did not miss. But they did not miss, you see: they did not miss the French.
But this reveals the mysticism of the English: those goddamned lintels on the Stone Henges and their 40,000 year history or so.
That is, when we say in English “I don’t miss you” it does not come out sounding as “I don’t like you” or “I want you to be gone” or anything of the sort. It comes off as a personal contentment of a sort, “I don’t miss you” and it’s okay, I am comfortable, you may return when you may.
For you are by me already, sent over the weather, sent down in a storm, over the airwaves, before the radio but no less electromagnetic . . . French might fuck your body with its maimings but English will fuck your head.
Yes, you may say, I’m reading too much into it. But not reading in and gathered up (as most European languages use an older “gather up” verb for ‘reading” like the French lire) ― this is what language does, gathers shit up, and sticks it together, and so with every reading in we gather up yet more, and stick it into the lintel, across La Manche, a little Eurostar Tunnel into the wormhole of Anglo-French history…
Hunting on the Lagoon by Vittore Carpaccio (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACarpaccio%2C_Vittore_-_Hunting_on_the_Lagoon_(recto)%3B_Letter_Rack_(verso)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.