Tu veux nous y rejoindre? /ty vø nuz i ʁəʒwɛ̃ndʁ/
You want to join us there?

After a couple months of coquettish Facebook chats, my French friends were finally in town. One blond and one dark-haired, they were a couple looking for a third to stop by their hotel. Excited to use the word ménage-à-trois /menaʒ a tʁwɑ/ in its proper context, I undid a shirt button and headed for the train.

You might know French as the “language of love.” There are 220 million people who just consider it the language of everything. In the 18th century, French was to the world what English is today (i.e. the lingua franca). You can still find that vibe if you visit France’s ex-colonies, like Vietnam and pretty much all of Africa. French is also one of the six official languages of the UN’s squabbling. (See also: Arabic, Russian)

France has been in the news lately for legalizing gay marriage and invoking the wrath of antigay groups like Hommen (/ɔmæ̃/, analogous to FEMEN) and la Manif pour tous (/la manif puʁ tus/ “the demonstration for all”). Unlike in Russia, these “pro-family” groups have already lost the war in France and are currently grasping for straws of martyrdom, America-style. Their most popular slogan is on ne lâche rien (/ɔ̃ nə laʃ ʁjɛ̃/ “we’re not budging on anything”), referring to the arrest of Nicolas Bernard-Bass, a protester intimidating the first legal gay marriage in France. #ONLR

Approaching the site of our rendez-vous, I spotted my friends waiting on the corner. I knew they weren’t secret Hommen anti-gays as they weren’t grinding on a telephone pole in little pink shorts. We exchanged bisous and headed inside to share a drink.

Faites-vous souvent la drague? /fɛt vu suvɑ̃ la dʁag/
You guys cruise a lot?

I tried to break the ice but was met with four raised eyebrows. Drague (related to “dredge”) means to go cruising, but the way I phrased my question made it sound like I thought they did drag. French for me is like bottoming, a few minutes of confused faces and trying to figure out where everything goes, but then I’m good for the night.

Je reviens, il faut que j’aille aux toilettes. /ʒə ʁəvjɛ̃, il fɔ kə ʒaj ɔ twɑlɛt/
I’ll be right back, I need to use the bathroom.

A trick I’ve learned from couples in the past is to go to the bathroom after introductions. Like a reality show, the judges need time to deliberate on whether you get to be America’s Next Top. Back in the bedroom, my friends were wearing a bit less. It was especially noticeable on the more Mediterranean of the two.

J’savais pas que tu sois poilu! /ʃavɛ pɑ kə ty swɑ pwɑly/
I didn’t know you were a bear!

Having three people to position can be daunting at times, to the point where even the French grammar reflects this. Verbs like “show” (montrer /mɔ̃tʁe/) or “give” (donner /dɔne/) that take two objects can place them before the verb in a “clitic cluster.” However, certain combinations of pronouns don’t work, compare the following correct phrase — Il me la montre. /il mə la mɔntʁ/ He shows it to me — to this ungrammatical phrase — Il me lui montre. /il mə lɥi mɔntʁ/ He shows me to him.

Here it’s fine to have me “me” with a direct object like la “it” (here, probably la bite “cock”), but not with an indirect object like lui. This asymmetry is called the Person-Case Constraint and is a good example of morphosyntax, the part of linguistics where the formation of words and assignment of cases (morphology) meets sentence structure (syntax). Fortunately for budding francophone sexters there is a “repair strategy” for these kinds of phrases, you can end them with à lui instead.

Positioning didn’t really become a problem for the three of us. Despite the poilu’s insistence that he was the actif (/aktif/ “top”), he was very eager to go down on me, and his light-haired partner followed. The two Frenchmen made out on my dick like a couple of salopes (/salɔp/ “sluts”), but just as I was about to kick back and high-five myself mentally:

Gardez les barbes! /gaʁde le baʁb/
Mind your beards!

They nicked me with their handsome stubble. After recovering for a minute, we regrouped and the poilu told me:

Je veux que tu l’encules. /ʒə vø kə ty lɑ̃kyl/
I want you to sodomize him.

Ah bon, comment aime-t-il être baisé? /a bɔ̃, kɔmɑ̃ ɛm t il ɛtʁ bɛze/
Great, how does he like to get fucked?

While a little awkward, this phrase illustrates a unique property of French. The silent letters at the end of most French words are not completely lost, they often exist at an underlying, or phonemic representation of the word. Aime “[he] likes” is pronounced [ɛm] in isolation, with a final M. But when it’s moved before the subject it takes an epenthetic -t-, as if it ends in a vowel. Similarly, tu vas “you go” is pronounced [ty va], but the S is retained in vas-y “go there.” ([vazi])

These word-final deletions must occur in a certain order, first the S’s and then the E’s (/ə/). This is why the feminine française “French” keeps its S (/fʁɑ̃sɛzə/ → [fʁɑ̃sɛz]), but the masculine français does not (/fʁɑ̃sɛz/ → [fʁɑ̃sɛ]). The idea that rules must happen in a sequence is a big problem in Optimality Theory, the current fad in phonology which seeks to cram all the rules into one terrifying Excel spreadsheet.

I was having trouble with some cramming myself, the blond was between me and the poilu and we were trying for la union de l’aigle (/la ynjɔ̃ də lɛgl/, “union of the eagle” i.e. spooning position with one knee raised) but it kept slipping out. La brouette (/la bʁuɛt/ “the wheelbarrow”) was much easier for aim, and his boyfriend took the other end.

Où est-ce que vous voulez mon foutre? /u ɛs kə vu vule mɔ̃ futʁ/
Where do you (pl.) want me to shoot?

Glazed like donuts, we shared a laugh and a shower. The poilu told me that I’d been using ménage-à-trois wrong, that it wasn’t just a threesome but an ongoing emotional entanglement between three people.

My heart sank when they left.

How to Talk Dirty in Russian: Distinctive Feature Theory and Screwing With Epaulettes 
How to Talk Dirty in Hindi: The Perceptual Vowel Space, Pussy and Rainbows
How to Talk Dirty in Danish: Laryngeal Features and Manmeat
How to Talk Dirty in Arabic: Nonconcatenative Morphology and Cocks