To celebrate the release of The Monogram Murders, the brand new Hercule Poirot novel from best-selling crime fiction novelist Sophie Hannah, we’re putting a spotlight on Christie’s most beloved character – specifically on his accent, which is so renowned that it has even become an event: Talk Like a Poirot Day (20th September), a bookish spin-off of Talk Like a Pirate Day.
The accent most associated with Christie’s fictional character was developed by actor David Suchet, who has spent 24 years and 70 episodes as Hercule Poirot, working from a list of around 90 traits and idiosyncrasies detailed within Christie’s novels and short stories.
Whilst playing the role, Suchet was just as fastidious as the detective himself: watching every single recorded episode before filming the next, refusing to act (even from behind the camera) without the infamous moustache, and once halting filming to phone his wife and ask her to consult his dossier of Poirot-isms as he had forgotten how many sugars the detective takes in his tea. The answer was: “four, sometimes three, occasionally five“.
Suchet’s dossier is top secret, so we have created our own How To guide for speaking like Poirot.
First, Poirot’s English is spoken with a mixture of French and Belgian accents.
The French part of this means rolling your ‘R’s and lengthening your ‘er’s and ‘ed’s; transforming your ‘le’s into ‘elle’s, and speaking ‘i’s as if they were ‘ee’s.
Therefore, “little” becomes “l-ee-telle.”
You’ll also have trouble pronouncing ‘h’s and ‘th’s, the first of which will become silent and the second of which will be replaced by a ‘z’.
For example, “I heard that” will become “I eard zat”.
Then all you need to do is add the guttural sound of the Flemish and throw a few ‘errs’ and ‘eughs’ in for authenticity.
Now, before debuting your accent to the world, you will need your moustache.
Fear not, this can be fake, and Christie has provided around 12 descriptions of it throughout her work so that allows you further leeway. According to Suchet, “it changes the flexibility of [the] top lip” which should move very little, and of course also allows for Poirot-esque pauses whilst you twiddle your moustache.
Now that you have the accent in place, you’ll need some authentic words and phrases to blend into conversation.
Easy additions include referring to your friends as “Hastings”, entering crowded rooms with the words “I expect you’re wondering why I gathered you all here today” and muddling up your word order with “see you” rather than “you see”.
You may also choose to refer to yourself in the third person as ‘Hercule Poirot’ _and to revert back to Dutch, French or German now and again with words such as ‘alors’, ‘monsieur’, and ‘kaputt’_.
In terms of phrases, you must primarily make use of Poirot’s most famous phrase “these little grey cells” – referring to the genius within his “egg-shaped head” as Christie calls it.
Then, feel free to be bold – “If you will forgive me for being personal – I do not like your face, M. Ratchett”, confident – “trust Hercule Poirot. He knows”, and proud of your moustache – “It is an art, [-]the growing of the mustache! I have sympathy for all who attempt it”.
Finally, arm yourself with a repertoire of bizarre and abstract metaphors:
“For somewhere [-]there is in the hay a needle, and among the sleeping dogs there is one on whom I shall put my foot, and by shooting the arrows into the air, one will come down and hit a glass house!”
Remember, it is imperative to maintain this accent at all times as it is key to Poirot’s crime-solving success:
“It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say – a foreigner – he can’t even speak English properly. It is not my policy to terrify people – instead I invite their gentle ridicule. Also I boast! An Englishman he says often, ‘A fellow who thinks as much of himself as that cannot be worth much’. That is the English point of view. It is not at all true. And so, you see, I put people off their guard”.
So, you have the accent in place, a few words and phrases to start with, and now all you need is a mystery. We suggest plunging into 1920s London with The Monogram Murders.