Curiously, so far, all three of my questions on this forum are related to my watching series in French.

In "Monk and the Foreign Man", S08E02, the key of the problem is solved by the Foreign Man, who is from an english-speaking African country, namely Nigeria.

Earlier, a witness had recognized the van of the murderer, but all he could say is that the word "POISON" was written in big letters on the van.

At some point, seeing a photo of an angler catching a fish, the Foreign man realises that what was really written was "POISSON", so they looked for a fish restaurant with a (probably phoney) french style.

Now in French, that makes perfect sense.

But in english ? I don't even know how the word "poisson" is sounded in this episode. Is it sounded as "poy-son", rhyming with poison in english, "poy-zon" ? Or is it sounded the french way "pwah-song" which does rhyme in french with "pwa-zong" = poison ?

I did check the transcript, as suggested in a comment to my question here by Acccumulation (not a misprint, this user has three Cs in his username - thanks to him for his help), but the spelling does not tell me the answer.

In French the Nigerian man has a very characteristic "french african" accent, what you'd expect from a Senegalese, an Ivorian or a Nigerien (from Niger, not Nigeria).

What accent does he have in English ? Any hint of french accent under the african one ? Why would he ?

Or is there some good reason to expect him to see a connection that "Adrian Monk" did not see?

  • 2
    Many English natives would know the french for fish is poisson, even though there's opportunity to mis-read it at first. There's even a word-play joke , "One man's meat is another man's poisson" based on the similarity. I'd guess in English it just works as a sight-gag, it doesn't need the pronunciation to match.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 10:01
  • Also Samuel was the one who saw the picture of the fish, Monk did not, hence Samuel make the connection Monk would have made if he had seen it.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 10:10
  • @Paulie_D I grant you that much, Samuel was the one to see it. But how does it sound in english ? "Not poy-zon", but "poy-son" ? Or "Not poy-zon" but "pwa-song" ?
    – Alfred
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 10:52
  • poyzon is how it's pronounced
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 11:02
  • @Tetsujin I'm not asking how Brits in general pronouce it ! I'm asking how Samuel is pronouncing it in this Monk episode !!!!!
    – Alfred
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 12:43

2 Answers 2


To answer the question stated in the title - the plot point is dependant on the street kids not being well-educated enough to recognise the word as being French for fish, and instead initiate a misdirect towards a pest control vehicle.
The foreigner we have to assume is better-educated and can therefore make the mental leap required for the plot to be fulfilled, once given a mnemonic device in the fisherman painting.

The pronunciation is not vital to the plot, only the spelling and difference in meaning; moving the hunt from rat catcher to fishmonger or restauranteur.
[To briefly touch on the pronunciation, the character, in a Nigerian accent which I am completely incapable of spelling out any differently to British, pronounces them poy-zən and pwa-sson, clearly differentiating them in sound and meaning.]
It is not [in the parts I watched] made clear whether the street kids spotted the double 's' and were unaware of the pronunciation difference and meaning, or whether they simply couldn't spell. I can't imagine there being any plot necessity to return to them for confirmation after the misunderstanding was realised.

Why the reveal of this discrepancy was given to the guest star rather than the show hero is something we may never discover. Monk seems to be a kind of 'Sherlock' type character [OCD/Asperger's/irritating yet brilliant trope] so perhaps the audience would expect him to make these leaps ordinarily.
I don't know whether Monk is accredited elsewhere in the series as speaking even elementary French. It might just be a way to avoid his having to posses that knowledge, long term. Equally, it may just be to give the guest star a larger slice of the pie, and incidentally or otherwise, change audience perception of his character's knowledge, intelligence and/or education level.

  • The part of your answer that decided me to accept your answer is the last paragraph, the two arguments, one from "I don't know..... " to "... long term."; the second one from "Equally,...education level".
    – Alfred
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 19:29
  • 1
    Thank you. In the small portions I watched, it did appear that Monk assumed initially that the guy was homeless & 'selling something [I can only guess drugs] so he may have been given that plot point to draw the audience even further from following that initial presumption about the guy's character and bringing him 'on side' as a character of intelligence as opposed to merely deserving of sympathy for the loss of his wife. Make your audience love the nice guy. It never hurts.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 19:34
  • Re: the street kids, I never thought both were total idiots. The mostly silent one, maybe; but the one that gives the crucial testimony, no. Remember, the van was going very fast, and almost hit him twice. The van grazed him, he did never have a good view of its side. My understanding is that the first time he just glimpsed "POI..." and the second time "...SON" (or the other way round) and never had time to see there was an extra "S" in the middle.
    – Alfred
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 8:10

It's logical, in my mind, to deduce that the witness didn't speak French and mis-pronounced Poisson as "Poison". I don't speak French, and I never knew that word was pronounced "pwah-song" until I read it in your question. I'm sure I'm probably in the majority on that, as the most predominant languages spoken in the US (where the show was made) are English, Spanish and Chinese (in that order). According to this Wiki page, French is 7th (and pretty far down the list).

  • English only – 239 million (78.2%)
  • Spanish – 41 million (13.4%)
  • Chinese (including Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien and all other varieties) – 3.5 million (1.1%)
  • Tagalog (including Filipino) – 1.7 million (0.6%)
  • Vietnamese – 1.5 million (0.5%)
  • Arabic – 1.2 million
  • French – 1.2 million
  • 1
    No. The witness misread the word and really meant "poison", he spoke of an exterminator (of rats, cockroaches, etc. not of people). Later Samuel understood that because the van was going too fast, what the witness believed he read was incorrect. What was really written was "POISSON". My question is, when Samuel realised that, how did he pronounce in the original language of the episode. I saw it in French.
    – Alfred
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 15:47

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