Jewish World Review August 6, 2003 / 8 Menachem-Av, 5763
Word dominance by U.S. appears a fait accompli
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Perhaps still smarting from our recent decision to rename shoestring potatoes "freedom fries" (to say nothing of "freedom dressing" and "freedom maid"), the French government has decreed that the term "e-mail" will henceforth be pronounced "courriel." The concern, as I understand it, is that Americanisms are diluting the French language to the point that pretty soon everything from berets to bidets will be referred to as "Big Mac."
Still, like my doomed campaign to rid the English language of the word "whom," I doubt that the French Culture Ministry will have much luck booting "e-mail" from the national lexicon.
"Courriel" is meant to be a fusion of the French words "courrier electronique," meaning "electronic mail." No word on what, if anything, the French intend to do about far more annoying Americanisms like "chat rooms," "blog" and "you have performed an illegal operation and will be shut down."
This is just the latest attempt by the French government to put a Gallic stamp on the international language of computers. Last year, the government tried to get people to pronounce the "@" symbol in e-mail (excuse me, "courriel") addresses not as "at" but as either "arobase" or "arrobe." This worked about as well as the government decree stating that Internet start-up companies should henceforth be referred to as "jeunes pousses" or "young sprouts." (The French should have waited. Since NASDAQ went into the tank, Americans have begun referring to these companies as "pension poison.")
Still, I feel that there is a rift forming between America and France that goes beyond computer nomenclature. Disagreement between the two countries on the necessity of war with Iraq has fostered bad feelings on both sides to the point that French-English/English-French dictionaries now include whole sections on how we can insult one another.
Naturally, I am appalled by this and point it out only so you don't inadvertently say "T'as une tête a faire sauter les plaques d'egouts" (You've got a face that would blow off manhole covers) when what you really mean to say is "Vos enfants sont tres beaux" (Your children are very attractive).
Similarly, you do not wish to say to a Frenchman "Il y a une grenouille vivante dans mon potage" (There is a live frog in my soup) when you wish to say "Vous ne pouvez pas obtenir ceci chez McDonald" (You can't get this at McDonald's).
Franco-American relations could be set back even further than they are now if you mistakenly say to a French person "Voulez-vous cesser de me cracher dessus pendant que vous parlez!" (Would you stop spitting on me while you're talking!) when what you really mean to say is "Pleut-il souvent a cette saison?" (Does it rain often this time of year?).
Likewise, a Frenchman should not say to an American "Votre président a-t-il été lâché la tête en bas en tant qu' enfant?" (Was your president dropped on his head as a child?) unless he thinks such a remark will initiate a positive dialogue and promote better understanding between our two countries.
Me, I'm putting off that trip to France until things settle down or, as the French might say, "Jusqu'à ce que le weasel se couche avec le gerbil" (Until the weasel lies down with the gerbil).
Whatever that means.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
07/28/03: Ads that are hard to swallow