New Word #15: Raconteur

Racounteur means a person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way. It’s said it has a French origin and it comes from the French word “raconter”, which means ‘relate, recount’. My question is if it comes from “raconter”, who takes the trouble to change the tail to “teur”? I can just imagine this whimsical troublemaker, who must be thinking, “English words haven’t had enough complication with their irregular spellings. Let me make this more difficult. I am anticipating that one day there will be millions and millions of non-native speakers. Let me play a little language prank on them.”

I have always wanted to be a racounteur, but somehow my storytelling skills are no good. My friends often tell me that I shouldn’t laugh myself when I am telling a story no matter how funny it is, but I just can’t help it. I would laugh while my listeners are puzzled. Then I would say it is so funny and why don’t you laugh. The polite ones will try to give a fake laugh out of sympathy for my effort while the honest ones will tell me I don’t know how to tell a story. This prompts me to suspect that a racounteur is acquired by birth, like a poet or a musician. If one is not born a racounteur, one can hardly become one by training or learning–actually I am saying this only wishing to be contradicted. I grew up with the principle that if one can’t become what one wants to be, one continues to try until one dies of trying–only to a certain extent though.

There are several words that look similar in spelling to racounteur:

  • raccoon: a grayish-brown American mammal that has a foxlike face with a black mask and a ringed tail.
  • recondite: (of a subject or knowledge) little known; abstruse.
  • reconnoiter: make a military observation of (a region).
  • reconnaissance: military observation of a region to locate an enemy or ascertain strategic features.

29 thoughts on “New Word #15: Raconteur

      1. As my cousin said, it’s like gargling rocks. I gotta admit the Quebecois dialect seems to be rather easy compared to French spoken in France

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        1. LOL. Quite a lot of sighs and nasal sounds. Are the two different versions of French like American English and British English? I once saw an old old map of North American and France actually occupied a huge middle section from Quebec to Louisiana. I was quite shocked.

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        2. From what I have seen, yes it is like the different English dialects. I also noticed the Quebecois accent is like speaking French with an American accent

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        3. LOL. Is that because most of Quebec people also speak American English? My friend who went for a visit once told me that Quebec people can speak English just like Americans, but they pretend not to know English. LOL. That’s very funny.

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        4. Well, Canadians do have their own dialects within Canada, but a lot of the time they sound like Americans. Well, in order to understand why Quebecois are like that, it’s important to look at their history

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        5. I wish I know the Quebecois history. I only read a little story about the uprising of the French in Canada. I can’t even remember where I read it from–probably Margaret Atwood? I am losing my memory. I can’t believe this.

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        6. Several years back, I was really into Atwood. LOL. I don’t know if you will like her style. Sometimes it is hard to say. Wish you have a great time in Canada and share with us your stories.

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  1. I can sympathise. Often if I try to tell a story it just doesn’t seem interesting enough and I run out of steam halfway through. But I only realise that the story is not very interesting when I try to tell it. I think my problem is that I’m a bit of a minimalist and I often find that there’s actually not that much to tell. One sentence perhaps! Some people also seem to have the ability to speak in other people’s voices, which is useful if you’re telling a story. I don’t mean that they mimic other people – but they they change their voice to indicate that somebody else’s words are coming out of their mouth. That skill doesn’t come naturally to me. Also, of course, some people have the ability to improve on stories – to improve on reality. My mother was very good at that.

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    1. You are right. Some people just naturally know the tone, the voice, the pace, and the timing of telling a story, but others don’t–me for example. LOL. Another thing you said that resonates with me– a story I fancied very interesting at first is not so much when I tell it to others. I don’t know why but it happens a lot. I mean the interesting part of it just miraculously disappears. LOL.

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      1. Yes indeed – the interesting part of it just miraculously disappears. I wonder whether this has something to do with our desire to be truthful. The truth may be too complex and nuanced to make a compelling spoken story. However, perhaps we could write about it more successfully because then we’d be able to convey all the complexity and make a virtue of the nuance. It’s just a theory – I’m not absolutely sure that’s the real reason!

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        1. That’s true. If one tells a story just methodically, it may sound like a science experiment. LOL. Writing is a different story as it can be revised and changed…

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  2. Funny enough, people (including the Americans and English) would always see the French as having a superior culture. There is a stereotype of high class, snooty people always inserting French phrases into their conversations.

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    1. That’s so true. I often encounter french phrases in books without any explanation attached, as if readers would automatically know, but many readers (like me for instance) don’t. LOL.

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