3V1141.01 French: [I can speak French – “Cat twank” ] (3/8/81)
I asked Miriam how her French is coming. She replied, ‘Comment allez-vous ?’ ‘Tres bien, merci, et vous ?’ I answered. Miriam could not continue. We mentioned ‘French’ several times during the conversation. Peggy, who had been sitting there piped up, ‘I can speak French…(we all looked at her)… cat twank.’
This phrase, which Peggy classed as French and reproduced, is ‘Four, five’, ie. ‘quatre, cinq.’ She heard this part of the number name list in the content of the joke, often repeated, about three cats, ‘un, deux, et trois’ who went for a walk on the icy lake with the result that ‘un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq.’
A day or so later, Peggy gave a second example of French, and I quote ‘Woof, boogle, jig… that’s how I spell French.’ The phrase comes from the song in the W. C. Fields movie ‘Million Dollar Legs’, occasionally sung in our house. Notable here is the classification of the nonsense jingle as ‘French’, also is Peggy’s application of the word ‘spell.’ this brings up the enormous difficulty in understanding what she says because we don’t know what SHE might mean by what she says… not unless we have a rich historical corpus of lucid examples of meaning.