Zhock jocks at play

In today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro, the (somewhat idealized, but real) world of male athletes intersects with the (fictive) world of stereotypical Frenchmen via an imperfect pun:

(#1) In both worlds at once: the object that is a (symbolic) baseball bat in the sports world and also a (real) baguette in the French world (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

The elements of my titular phrase Zhock jock (admittedly, a play on shock jock, though the cartoon isn’t about disc jockeys — jocks — or provocative, offensive humor — shock — or provocative, offensive talk radio — shock jocks): Jacques [žak] (with initial fricative, in both French and English, though with different phonetic details in the two languages) vs. jock [ǰak] (with initial affricate, in English). So we get these three hybrid guys, flashing signifiers from both the French Zhock world — details below — and the (American) jock world (football, soccer, baseball) — cleated shoes, football jersey, padded pants, sports shorts, baseball cap.

And then a third world, the world of my personal life (nothing to do with Wayne and Dan), in the significant figure of my man Jacques (called [ǰæk] in English), who was, first, a jock up to a point (racquet sports in general and the aquatic sports of swimming and sailing — but not much past that) and, second, French up to a point (of (Mediterranean) French ancestry, visibly in his facial features, and with French as his first language — but then he mostly grew up in Gambier OH).

The stereotypical Frenchman. Bears little similarity to actual Frenchmen. On the list of stereotypical characteristics (which, of course, don’t hang together at all):

rude, heavy smoker, lazy and unshaven, with poor hygiene, accomplished lover, philanderer / horndog, heavy wine drinker, lover of good food, with a refined sense of style and artistry

From this list, visible in the cartoon guys: facial stubble in Guy2, Gauloises-style cigarette in Guy3, and for wine and food, red wine in Guy1, champagne in Guy2, and the baguette in Guy3 (missing on the food front: French cheeses, especially stinky ones, and frog’s legs and escargots).

Then the stereotypical French mustache, on all three men (curled at the tips in Guy1 and Guy3).

Stereotypical French apparel: Breton striped shirts, or marinières, in Guy1 and Guy3 (plus striped socks in Guy2); the French scarves for men in Guy1 and Guy3; the beret, the tricolor soccer shorts, and the Eiffel Tower-logo jacket in Guy2. That French beret in Guy2 stands against jockwear — the baseball cap — in Guy3 and, in Guy2, headgear whose import isn’t clear to me: a newsboy cap worn back-to-front.

[Digression on flat caps, with Brad Pitt as a bonus. From Wikipedia:

A flat cap is a rounded cap with a small stiff brim in front, originating in Britain and Ireland. The hat is known in Ireland as a paddy cap; in Scotland as a bunnet; in Wales as a Dai cap; and in the United States as an English cap, Irish cap, flat cap or (in Boston) scally cap.

… The flat cap hat is associated in North American (chiefly US) popular culture with city newsboys (i.e., street-corner newspaper sellers), the style sometimes being called a “newsboy” or newsboy cap

… [It is] sometimes worn back-to-front or cocked to the side

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “The newsboy cap: Read all about it: Celebrities and others once again can’t get enough of the hat known as the flat cap”, by Susan Langenhennig on 1/7/08:

(#2) Brad Pitt and his newsboy cap (photo: Ellis Lucia / Newhouse News Service)

New Orleans — It has been called the newsboy, the Jay Gatsby, the Big Apple, the Ivy, the eight-panel, even the Lundberg Stetson.

But the classic flat cap, popular with 19th-century longshoremen and 21st-century celebrities, should be known these days simply as the Brad Pitt.

The heartthrob humanitarian and his cap seem to be inseparable.

End of digression.]

Where do the stereotypes come from? From many sources, some having to do with Anglophone (British and American) encounters with the French, some with cultural characteristics shared with other European cultures, many with features that are especially notable to outsiders while not being common in France.

In the midst of this, and playing a major role in the development of the stereotype, is a cultural meme — based on historical event, but then turned into the stuff of popular imagination. From Wikipedia:

(#3) Title page of Le Petit Journal (20 October 1907): “The Apache is the sore of Paris / More than 30,000 prowlers against 8,000 city policemen”

Les Apaches (French: [a.paʃ]) was a Parisian Belle Époque violent criminal underworld subculture of early 20th-century hooligans, night muggers, street gangs and other criminals.

The cap (which becomes a beret), the scarf, the Breton shirt. Together contributing to the making of the stereotype. Fold in street artists, Jean-Paul Sartre with Simone de Beauvoir at Les Deux Magots, haute cuisine, the wine industry, and more with some low-life dissolution on the mean streets of Paris, and you get various versions of a cartoon Frenchman.

At the bright, user-friendly end, you get things like this: a genuine American jock, Noah Beck, turned TikTok influencer, here presented as a Zhock jock — in Frenchman drag:

(#4) An image of NB as a stereotypical Frenchman (beret, mustache, scarf, baguette, red wine) — apparently created (by whose hand I do not know) on the occasion of his speaking French in a message to Paris Fashion Week in June 2022 (“”Je t’aime Paris,” the TikTok star says with a grin”, the headlines reported)

Briefly about NB:

Noah Timothy Beck (born May 4, 2001) is an American social media personality most known for his content on TikTok. In 2019, Beck was a midfielder for the Portland Pilots men’s soccer team. (Wikipedia link)

(He has a big sweet smile, a lot of enthusiasm, and an infectious physicality.)

My very own Zhock jock. Jacques Henry Transue, born 1/22/42 (that will be significant), died 6/5/03, my longtime companion, my husband-equivalent, who was (as I pointed out above), both a sort of French person (with a stereotypically French name, [žak]) — and a sort of jock, but was also an American guy called [ǰæk] largely lacking in jock mentality.

I bring him up because of the name — see the cartoon in #1 — and because of his face, a wonderfully (Mediterranean) French face. Shown here in a thumbnail:

(#5) Jacques doing one of the things he did with passion and great ability, teaching linguistics

The face is very much a type — you can see a scruffier heavier version in Guy2 in #1, and the movie-star version in Jean-Paul Belmondo:


Then the name to go along with the face. The most popular names for French men in 1942, the year my Jacques was born:

1 Jean, 2 Michel, 3 Bernard, 4 Claude, 5 Jacques, 6 André 7 Pierre 8 Daniel, 9 Gérard 10 Alain (information from INSEE — Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques)

Claude, Jacques, and André walk into the smoke-filled Café Flor, carrying a soccer ball, a tennis racquet autographed by Alain Delon, and a still-warm baguette, respectively. Only to be confronted by a freshly clipped poodle, a diabolical Chartreux cat, and an amiable rabbi from Marseilles, all demanding to know what the young men have done with the tall blond bicycliste with one black boot. Complications ensue.

4 Responses to “Zhock jocks at play”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Somewhat oddly, despite having lived in the Boston area my entire adult life, I never heard the term “scally cap” until earlier this year. I actually own two such, both (I believe) of Irish origin.

  2. RF Says:

    It’s interesting to me that “zh” can be clearly understood as representing the French “j” sound, from analogy with “sh,” even though the digraph does not exist in either language. I am more used to seeing it in Chinese words and names written in Pinyin, where the sound is closer to an English “j,” so I originally read your title as “jock jock.”

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