French word of the day: Quiproquo

The French word of the day is 'quiproquo'.
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Not to be confused with the quid pro quo we refer to in English.

Why do I need to know quiproquo?

Not only can it explain some awkward social situations, it’s also used when discussing fiction.

What does it mean?

In Latin, quid pro quo means “something for something”, or “one thing for another”. In English, the term has come to refer to one favour being exchanged for another. Hence Donald Trump’s insistence during his impeachment inquiry that there was “no quid pro quo”, after accusations he pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son by withholding military aid.

In French, though, the expression has evolved to mean something different.

As well as dropping the ‘d’, the term quiproquo refers to a misunderstanding. It still retains the notion of one thing for another, but here it means something is mistaken for something else, whether it’s a person, a thing or a situation.

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It’s often used to describe a scene in a book or play where there is a case of mistaken identity, or a farcical situation where characters aren’t on the same wavelength. In recent years, sitcoms such as Modern Family have made use of the quiproquo to engineer humorous misunderstandings, where two people are talking to each other while having two completely different conversations.

It’s important to note that the different elements are pronounced the French way, ignoring the letter ‘u’, so it sounds like key-pro-co.

Use it like this

Il y a eu un quiproquo. Quand je l’ai appelée pour lui dire que j’étais devant chez elle, elle m’a dit qu’elle venait d’arriver chez moi ! – There was a misunderstanding. When I called her to say I was outside her place, she told me she’d just arrived at mine!

Il y a souvent des quiproquos quand je tend la main à quelqu’un et qu’il s’avance pour faire la bise – There is often a moment of confusion when I offer somebody my hand and they lean for a kiss on the cheek.

C’est un quiproquo ; on m’avait dit qu’il fallait se déguiser pour la soirée Halloween – It’s a misunderstanding; I was told we had to dress up for the Halloween party.

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