Just the other day I heard a person being interviewed on television say something like : “As Peggy Lee used to sing – and here I’m dating myself – … “. (A common variant is “: …and I know I’m dating myself here “. ) What the person was saying of course was how making a reference to a song by a singer of a certain era was a way of revealing the approximate age of the speaker. I then asked myself just how would one translate this idea into French.
The first thing you have to know is that there exists in French the verb dater with some uses that resemble those of its English counterpart. But none of those uses would seem to apply here, and, as we shall soon see, the whole thing soon becomes quite complicated
What do the automatic translation websites say ?
Google Translate and DeepL, both good automatic translation websites by the way, gave the following translation of our target phrase:
Et je sors avec moi-même ici
Good try but totally incorrect in the context here. The websites are interpreting the meaning of the verb to date as “to go out with someone” and hence the translation with the verb sortir avec.
This brings up the interesting subject of how to translate into French the various words and concepts around this meaning of “to date (someone)”. How would one translate things like :
We started dating a year ago.
We dated for a year before getting married.
He was her date for the graduation ball.
A dating website.
I went on a blind date.
Have you tried speed dating?
This will be the subject of another post. But it is interesting to note that in this meaning the English “date” and all its derived forms have been borrowed en masse into Québécois French. You will read and hear things like: une date, une blind date, le speed dating, un dating show and the verb dater.
To avoid any confusion these forms are pronounced à l’anglaise. When written, they will often be in quotes to avoid confusion with identical French forms, as in :
Pierre était la première « date » de Mélanie
Using the French verb dater
The verb dater in French does actually have some uses in common with the English verb “to date”. Here are some examples :
(1) Cette relation ne date pas d’hier. This relationship dates way back.
(2) Le mobilier date un peu. The furniture looks a bit dated.
(3) Le document était daté du 8 février 2003. The document was dated February 8. 2003.
(4) Nous n’avons pas pu dater certaines lettres avec certitude. We were unable to date certain letters exactly.
Be careful with se dater
In standard French the pronominal version se dater is a bit rare and means “to be dated” or “to date from”, as in :
Ce tableau se date de la fin du 18e siècle. This painting dates from the end of the 18th century.
However you will comme across se dater with out without quotation marks in Québécois French where the meaning is to « to see each other ». Here for example is the title of a website :
Se dater soi-même et arrêter d’attendre LA personne.
What I think the author is trying to say is be comfortable by yourself, i.e. “date yourself” and stop waiting (endlessly) for the right person.
Here is the title of a newspaper article talking about places to drink and meet people:
8 bars où se « dater » le dimanche après-midi
As I write this, I notice that in websites from France this usage of se dater is becoming common.
The French translation for “And I’m dating myself here”
I think the best solution is to not use the verb dater at all and instead say montrer son âge « to show one’s age », as in :
Et là, je montre mon âge.
Et là, vous montrez votre âge.
You could say use other verbs like dévoiler son âge or révéler son âge but these tend to mean « giving away the exact age » whereas montrer son âge has more of the connotation of “being of a certain or oldish age”.
Conclusion : watch out for false friends
What we have seen here is how words that are nearly identical in French and English can have both similar and different meanings. Usually called false friends or faux amis, these words are often, as we have seen here, very tricky to translate.
There are lots of these in French and English. For example éventuellement and actuellement are very different from their English cousins “eventually” and “actually”. We’ll look at those in a future post.
The other interesting thing to keep in mind is that the French language is changing and interaction with English is having an effect on these similar words. The French dater seems to taking on this English sense of “to go out someone”. This change is already quite advanced in Québécois French and also appears to be spreading in European French.
Who knows, I have the feeling that in the not so distant future, one will be able to say :
Et là, je me date
Et là, je suis en train de me dater