Queen of Spades: Les Éléments

sing the LMNCeci est en quelque sorte une traduction de “The Elements” de Tom Lehrer, à chanter sur l’air de “Je ne suis pas bien portant” de Gaston Ouvrard. Je cherche quelqu’un qui pourrait la chanter, je chante encore plus mal que je prononce le français.

The following is a French translation of Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements“, to be sung to the tune of “Je ne suis pas bien portant” by Gaston Ouvrard. Sorry, no recording yet, I can neither sing nor pronounce French well enough. You’re welcome to try.

Y’a nickel, bismuth, tantale, gallium,
osmium, carbone, aluminium,
azote, terbium, platine et hafnium,
et les états d’américium.
N’oubliez pas praséodyme,
c’est juste avant le néodyme.

Y’a phosphore
sodium, bore,
puis calcium
et rhénium,
or, lanthane
et titane
et radon
sur Krypton

Ah ! bon Dieu ! Je ne suis pas
très bon en la matière.
Ah ! bon Dieu ! Je ne suis pas !
Chimie c’est la galère.

Manganèse, antimoine, silicium
rutherfordium, gadolinium
astate, thulium, césium, ruthénium
m’a dit Dmitri Mendélévium.
Seaborgium, dubnium protactinium
cobalt, arsenic, californium.

Y’a scandium
baryum, brome
et le chrome.
Fer, tellure
zinc, mercure
et radium
argent, plomb
et argon.
Soufre chlore
et fluor
puis néon
et xénon
et tungstène.

Ah ! bon Dieu ! Je ne suis pas
très bon en la matière.
Ah ! bon Dieu ! Je ne suis pas !
C’est la croix, la bannière.

Il y a hassium bohrium curium
iode, thorium, étain, actinium
et cuivre, indium, holmium, fermium
et meitnérium et magnésium
et aussi thallium et francium
les gaz à effet de cérium.

Y’a strontium
puis niobium
et rhodium
et yttrium
et erbium
et lithium
et cadmium
trop d’hélium

Ah ! bon Dieu ! Je ne suis pas
très bon en la matière.
Ah ! bon Dieu ! Je ne suis pas !
Chimie c’est la misère.






This is a translation of Tom Lehrer’s song ‘The Elements’, at least in the sense that it’s a fast, rhyming song featuring all the chemical elements up to nobelium (I also added everything up to meitnerium.) While Lehrer’s song is sung to the tune of ‘Major-General’s Song’ by Gilbert & Sullivan, this French version is to be sung to the tune of ‘Je ne suis pas bien portant‘ by Gaston Ouvrard, another fast-paced, rhyming song which should be just about as recognisable to French speakers as ‘Major-General’s Song’ is to Anglophones. When I re-read the lyrics in preparation for this, I discovered that the original version of the song (unlike the Patrick Topaloff version I had listened to) has references to the military, which makes it somehow an even better analogue to the Major-General’s Song.

I came up with the idea for this when I recognised the tune of ‘Je ne suis pas bien portant‘ in the second parody I’d heard of it, and realised that if anybody wrote a translation of ‘The Elements’, this should be its tune. This was a few weeks before starting my Thing A Week project, but I decided to wait for the letter L, since ‘elements’ sounds similar to ‘LMN’. Being a programmer, I decided to write some software to help me to arrange the elements into lines. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see how well a computer could write a song with a given word list, meter and rhyme scheme, when the order of the words was not important to the meaning.

I figured I had plenty of time to write the software which would write this song.  Then, this Friday, I realised with horror that it was already L week. I could either do it this weekend, or wait half a year for the next L to come around. I was not at all sure I could do it in time… I had barely done any Mac programming since the Worldwide Developers’ Conference in 2004, and had not used any of the new features introduced then. However, thanks to CoreData, before I even wrote a single line of code, I had a working application and interface with which I could create a document with the words and tune data, and verify that there were roughly similar numbers of syllables and rhymes in the tune and element list.

On Sunday morning I started writing the actual code, to automatically arrange elements into lines.

By around 9:30p.m. on Sunday, I had my first complete computer-written draft, with some missing syllables to fill in with conjunctions. I then removed some lines from the tune in the software so that I could write a refrain with real words that actually make sense (I hope.) I figured that out at around 11:30, filled in some gaps in the latest computer-generated song, shuffled a few elements around, added some new ones, and just managed to paste it into my blog in time for midnight. Just like old times.

The card of the week doesn’t have much to do with elements, but it does show yodellers, which has something to do with songs. I didn’t have time to write two separate Things, so that will have to do.

I’m ashamed to admit that I edited it a bit on Monday evening, not just to fix punctuation (which is allowed, because I’m usually too hurried to get that right the first time), but also to add a missing syllable and swap a few lines.

I did not, however, sneak in my idea for a changed line. To add variety, I’m thinking of replacing:

Chimie c’est la galère


C’est quoi cette galère ?

(with the final ‘e’ in ‘cette‘ pronounced.) Any opinions?

Merci à Bicus pour « la croix et la bannière » et à pim pour les conseils experts de prononciation.

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  1. #1 by pim on May 26, 2008 - 1:07 am

    It’s rock !

    Really !


  2. #2 by A meri ca on June 1, 2008 - 10:10 am

    and the elements in French???? why???


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