Babble with Beckett: How foreign languages can provide writers with a way out of the familiar (thanks Dave Lull):
About twenty years ago, a friend from Paris gave me a copy of Premier Amour (1945), one of Samuel Beckett’s very early works in French. This friend especially treasured this little-known short récit, but there was a word he did not understand. The protagonist does some kind of business with a “panais”. “Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’un panais?”, he asked. “It’s a parsnip.” “Yes, so the dictionary says. But what is a parsnip? The French don’t eat parsnips. They feed them to animals.” The appearance of the panais in Premier Amour is ruefully comic; it brings into play the cryptic, the abject and the theatrical. It hints, according to punning dream logic, at the proverb, “Fine words butter no parsnips”. Beckett was finding his way out of fine words.