Georges Brassens - Tonton Nestor (English translation)

Proofreading requested
English translation

Uncle Nestor

Uncle Nestor,
you did wrong,
I’m telling you quite plainly.
You stirred up
trouble and chaos
at Jeanette’s marriage.
I must tell you,
Uncle, that you
behaved like an
utter cad, an
out-and-out boor,
a rather vulgar man.
When the bride,
with downcast eyes,
her lashes full of tears,
was making ready
to say “I do”
to the civil official,
what was it that caused you,
ill-mannered old lout,
to go, shamelessly,
to inflict a cruel
pinch on her
fleshy eminence.
Turning around
she slapped, crack-bang!
the best man
who, happily,
had a very slappable face.
But instead of the
expected “I do”,
she cried “Mummy!”
and the mayor said to her
“No, my child,
it isn’t time yet.”
When the bride
with downcast eyes,
was making ready to say,
in a solemn voice
“I do”
before the Eternal,
there was mischief
when, once again,
you dared to put
your wretched
claw-like paw
on her rotundity.
Turning around
she wiped the nose1
of an altar boy
who, happily,
had a bit of a sniffle,
but instead of the
expected “I do”,
with her poor weak voice
to the distraught
tonsured priest
she said “shit”, oh dear!
Although she used,
and indeed abused,
her right to have a lot of buttock,
by pinching it,
a bad joke,
you disappointed us,
and so, my word,
the next time
we marry Jeanette,
we’ll leave you out,
Uncle, I tell you,
I tell you quite plainly.
  • 1. if the nose wasn't mentioned, it would mean she gave the alter boy a rocket, but it is mentioned so I don't think it can men that
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Submitted by michealt on Mon, 12/02/2018 - 00:04
Last edited by michealt on Tue, 13/02/2018 - 15:22
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Tonton Nestor

petit élève    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 00:14

Regular smile

I've slightly modified the transcription, but that should not change the meaning:
S1L2: added "eûtes"
S4L1: changed "fiancée" for "épousée"

michealt    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 10:52

I don't know how that "eûtes" escaped, I thought I'd locked alll the doors so the words couldn't run away.
S4L1 - you're right, when he first recorded it (live at a concert in Paris) he sang "épousée" there. In his book (Poèmes et Chansons) it's "fiancée", and that's also what he sings on some later discs, including in the 13 CD set released by Phillips some years back, where it's the second song of 14 on the CD of the album "le mécréant". As the video here has "épousée" that's what it should be, thanks for spotting that and fixing it.

Maybe in future I'll remember to check that the words on video I find are the same as the words on the disc or CD I have.

petit élève    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 11:04

This "eûtes" is a rare bird indeed Regular smile

3oudicca    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 00:21

Brilliant! Thank you so much for translating this one, it's fantastic Regular smile A few wee things to consider (or not Teeth smile ):
the lashes covered with tears,=> her lashes covered with tears
was preparing to say, => was getting ready to say
to say “yes I do” => to say "I do"
to the civil official, => to the Registrar
who, happilly, => who, happily
a very slapppable face. => a very slappable face
it isn’t that time.” => it's not a good time
in front of the Eternal, => before the Lord / in the presence of the Lord
your wretched => your damn(ed)
I loved the very slappable face, awesome Teeth smile

petit élève    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 00:25

Maman ! / Ce n'est pas le moment -> that rather alludes to what is supposed to happen during the wedding night Regular smile
Don't know how to make that clear in English though.

3oudicca    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 00:25

Ah, then probably "It's not the right time" ... or even "not now..."

3oudicca    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 00:27

Teeth smile "We're coming to that" or "We'll get to that part later"?

michealt    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 11:44

Thanks, 3oudicca, I've made some changes as a result of your comments. There are three things you mentioned that I don't want to change:
civil official - probably not what we would call a registrar (the last civil wedding I attended outside of Britain was conducted by the mayor, not by a registrar, and the rules are different in different countries).
wretched - Brassens has avoided curses and blasphemy in this song (some of his songs are full of them) so I want to retain the absence of those things and mistranslate "fichue" as "damned" (of course "damned" in English is no longer considered a curse or blasphemous, much as "fichue" in French is no longer considered obscene, but "damned" is much too like "damnée").
"the Eternal" - given Brassens' attitude to religion, I think sticking to the literal "Eternal" is best. But you are right about "in front of".

3oudicca    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 18:49

Thank you very much again. Regular smile
He does say a worse word than damned in this one - if I remember correctly. I'm not looking at the lyrics as I write this, so I'm doubting my memory. Teeth smile
But wretched is a good word. The more I see it, the more I can think of ways to use it ... especially in the context of your comments further down about Amazon ... wretched Amazon ... Regular smile

petit élève    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 19:00

"fichu" is quite mild, like a watered down version of "foutu".
Even at the time Brassens wrote the song, it was probably no more shocking than "blasted" or "darned".

3oudicca    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 20:38

Teeth smile when I feel like using an f-word in front of my mother-in-law,  Angel smile this is the only one that passes muster... Tongue smile

Gavin    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 11:16

That's some nice formal French there! Nicely translated Regular smile

II think I'd have translated "Vous avez mis la zizanie" rather more literally as "You sowed discord" - but that's just me..

petit élève    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 11:25

"zizanie" sounds more funny than "discorde", I suppose a bit of exaggeration is a way to render that.

Gavin    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 11:28

Yes, well true enough, It's just that "to sow discord" is rather a familiar fixed phrase and seems in keeping with the tone - but all good either way. "La zizanie" is mainly familiar to me from "Astérix" and in the English edition of that they just gave up and called it "Asterix and the Roman agent" Regular smile

petit élève    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 11:31

One of the best, if not the best. All these mid-70's albums are a bit cynical, but the funniest by far.

michealt    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 12:56

But also "semer la zizanie" is a rather well known familiar phrase in French, but here we have "a mis la zizanie" not "semas la zizanie". Besides,
the rest of the song seems to describe more "chaos" than "discord" so unless "zizanie" and "discord" could both mean ill-will on the part of Uncle N (and I don't think either "sow discord" in English or "mettre la zizanie" could be interpreted as "display ill-will" so (given the events described in the following stanzas) I think using discord would mean misinterpreting the French in a way that wouldn't really make any sense in English. It's certainly important when translating to recognise stock phrases, but it's equally important not to assume a stock meaning when the context makes it clear that something else was intended (especially when only half the stock phrase is actually there).

On Asterix - I think I managed to acquire all the French books for my children. Double motivation - that way the children might learn some French [schools these days seem to do their best to make it boring; when I was young things were different] and also I would of course get to read all of them myself. I looked at German translations of some of them, which seemed quite fun, and English translations - where the "translation" of names varied from the sublime (Cacofonix) via the rather clever (Dogmatix), the fairly obvious (Geriatrix, Analgesix), to the utterly hopeless (Pacifix, Adriatix, Atlantix). Perhaps "Asterix and the Trouble Maker" would have been a better choice of book title than "Asterix and the Roman Agent" in the English translation of "La Zizanie". (The couldn't just translate "La Zizanie" on its own to get a title, as then no-one would have recognised it as an Asterix book and the sales would have been rather disappointing).

Gavin    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 13:30

Yes, I see your reasoning completely now. He certainly sounds like a chaotic influence. I guess a lot of the humour comes from the rather formal French telling of this naughty and inappropriately behaving uncle.
I've got a full English and nearly full French collection of the books - agree that it's fun to compare what works better/the same/worse in the translations. Asterix and the Troublemaker would indeed have been a much better title. The guy's causing trouble right from the start, not just once he's recruited an as agent provocateur.
Incidentally have you tried the latest ones? Astérix chez les Pictes was a decent opener but not quite there, but Le Papyrus de César was really very good indeed. Plus there's also Astérix et la Transitalique which I've yet to try...

michealt    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 15:09

No, I haven't tried the latest ones. Do Amazon carry them? For various reasons I haven't been in France recently, and the bookshops near where I live (both in England and in Spain) don't carry much in the way of French children's books. Maybe I should look on Amazon and see what there is.

Gavin    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 15:24

Indeed they do - I just picked up the latest one after this chat made me discover its existence!

You can always order from if you have any trouble finding the French editions. Regular smile

michealt    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 17:48

Well, not unless your lucky - Amazon has become pretty bloody-minded about this, for lot of stuff it will not allow you to buy other than from your normal base. And sometimes (more often than not in my experience) instead of a redirection to your main amazon account, you get a message telling you you can't buy that here. I'll have to see what happens with the Asterisk books. But anyone who wants to deal cross-country with Amazon after their insane exchange rates and their appalling dirty trick preventing use of multiple country accounts for Kindle needs their head read. Luckily I can bypass someof their tricks because I have both pound-denominated and euro-denominated credit and debit cards and current accounts, but I'll never forgive what they did to cross-national use of Kindle (or how ther customer support people lied to me).

Gavin    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 19:36

That's curious, I've never had any problems. But I confess I've not tried anything in the last few weeks and I've never ordered a kindle book. I'll just wait and see what happens next time.
/edit - out of interest I just checked my history and my last order was a DVD boxset last July. Maybe they've tightened things up since.

Gavin    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 11:31

Incidentally that's the second time I've stumbled across "Tête à claques" in the last few days. I can't express just how much I enjoy this expression. Wink smile

petit élève    Mon, 12/02/2018 - 11:33

I quite like the expression too. For instance "le canard tête à claques" is my personal nickname for Jar Jar Binks. It also fits our current president like a glove.

Brat    Tue, 13/02/2018 - 14:00

S3L1 has a typo: Tourning ->Turning Regular smile

michealt    Tue, 13/02/2018 - 15:22

Thanks for spotting it