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Wit: Voltaire and Frederick the Great



Frederick the Great

Frederick the Great

Voltaire and Frederick the Great were friends and conversed in French, as all European aristocrats did at the time. And they were witty.

One day, Frederick invited Voltaire to come join him at his castle, Sanssouci, in Potsdam, by writing the following note (Caution: This may not display properly in an RSS reader):

_p__   à   _ci__
venez        sans

Voltaire did not miss a beat and replied with his own note:

G      a

And they both began to look forward to their next meeting!


Voltaire immediately understood Frederick’s note to mean “venez souper à Sanssouci“–ie, come dine at Sanssouci. The word venez is “sous” (under) the letter p. The word sans is “sous” the word ci.

So he replied by saying J’ai grand appétit: Capital G = “Gé grand”; lower-case a = “a petit”.

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16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mr. Crotchety #

    OMG, that’s funny! I wonder if Voltaire went so far as to LOL. I think I’m out of my depth, again. I’m going to go back to watching cat videos on youtube. (no, I’ve never texted, either). Sarcasm is not only a low form of humor, it is also a manifestation of one’s insecurity.

    November 23, 2008
  2. I only just read your comment now, Mr Crotchety–I was busy watching dog videos on YouTube…

    November 24, 2008
  3. quantumn #


    November 27, 2008
  4. venir D esprits!

    July 8, 2010
    • Un souvenir grand d’esprit.


      July 8, 2010
    • Hmmm, let me try this again. Sorry, I’m experimenting with HTML on your blog.

      Maybe this will be better:

      venir DDD esprits

      July 8, 2010
  5. Thanks for humoring me. So close to what I meant. I’m trying for: Un souvenir des grands esprits!

    July 8, 2010
  6. I think Voltaire also said, in his reply


    Since he had grand appetit it would have to be à grand souper :-)

    PS LOL in French is sometimes shown as “mdr” – mourir de rire, but I think most French speakers go for LOL these days…..

    May 28, 2011
    • Thanks for playing, David.

      Good to learn the French web-argot…. from an Englishman. ;)

      May 28, 2011
  7. I have seen it like:
    P/1 a 6/100

    Un soous P a cent sous six….?

    August 1, 2011
    • Oh, that’s even better, Henning! That must be the true version.

      August 1, 2011
    • victor #


      May 8, 2012
  8. Dick Cavett #

    So far no one has it right, or at least as I learned it in high school in Nebraska from a German exchange student named Gisele Budde. (Are you out there, Gisele?)

    The version first given here is too easy on the right side of the equation. The — I would guess — correct version of that side is (either):

    si çi

    100 making it bi-lingual…or. 100

    No charge for this
    Dick Cavett

    January 17, 2014
  9. Dick Cavett #

    It came out wrong. Different from how I typed it. Perhaps the damage can be cured with:
    the top of the right side (the numerator?) should be EITHER ‘si’ or ‘çi’
    D. Cavett

    January 17, 2014
    • Very plausible, Dick:

      so it would be: ci / 100


      January 18, 2014

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