Les « Intraduisibles »
Too French for translation…
The French verb cartonner and faire un carton have several meanings, but in the last few decades they have evolved to encompass a new colloquial significance. The terms can be used to characterise someone or something that has achieved a lot of success. The expression faire un carton was first coined in the context of archery to refer to an impressive shot on a target, with this expression and cartonner soon developing a broader sense of having made an outstanding achievement.
In the English language there is no precise equivalent to recreate the nuanced register into which cartonner falls. Dictionaries suggest translations such as ‘to do extremely well’ and ‘to succeed brilliantly’, which convey the notion of great accomplishment, yet fail to offer an adequate counterpart to the informal nature of this particular verb.
With reference to the Cannes Festival, the Mission Linguistique Francophone discusses the current usage of cartonner. In 2015, SudOuest featured an article about the French films ‘qui ont cartonné à l’étranger’, while L’Express summarised the festival as a ‘carton plein’ for French cinema. The article observes the striking dominance of ‘cartonner’ to describe various successes at the Film Festival instead of using alternatives, such as ‘triomphe’, ‘succès’ or ‘victoire’.
Read the original article – Mission Linguistique Francophone.