Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sporting language in politics

The TV encounter between Ségolène Royal and François Bayrou turned out to be extremely polite and friendly, with no rudeness, aggressiveness nor even raised voices. In describing the show, French media used the fencing expression "fleuret moucheté". This is a foil without cutting edges whose tip is covered by a round button, so that nobody gets hurt.

A fortnight ago, an amusing Nicholson animation appeared on the website of The Australian, on a theme called sledging, which probably comes from cricket. [Click here to see it.] In a cricket match between political parties, John Howard is the batsman and Kevin Rudd the bowler. The commentator, Ritchie Benaud, has invited along a talkative guest: Paul Keating. The match gets off to a quiet almost gentlemanly start:

Bowler Rudd [to the batsman]: "You spineless sycophantic nitwit!"

Batsman Howard [to the bowler]: "Pull your head in, you useless nong!"

Then the great mud-slinger Keating takes over, with comments of the following kind about the batsman: "Howard's got a brain like a sparrow's nest: all shit and sticks. You know, when they circumcised him, they threw away the wrong bit. He's a dead carcass swinging in the breeze, and nobody's got the balls to cut him down. Etc, etc."

Naturally, at the end of this quaint animation, the Sledging Cup is awarded to Keating. [Click here for an anthology of authentic Keating sayings, some of which have been used in Nicholson's sledging animation.] Personally, my favorite Keatingism is his description of Treasurer Peter Costello as "all tip and no iceberg".

Jumping from one thing to another, I was impressed by the sporting language used in the female entourage of the Melbourne underworld personage Carl Williams. A typical specimen, quoted in the Australian press, consists of one of Carl's ladies referring to another lady as a "trashy piece of fucking carnage". The journalist in The Australian used (invented?) a nice expression to designate this kind of language: trash talk.

Getting back to French politics, I see that Nicolas Sarkozy is resorting more and more to sporting metaphors in his combat for the presidency. The other day, when he heard that Ségolène Royal would be debating with François Bayrou, Sarkozy turned to soccer language. In the days preceding a cup final, he stated, it would be weird if one of the teams that was already eliminated wanted to replay a match with one of the finalists. Today, Sarko (as he's nicknamed) has turned to cycling, in referring to next Wednesday's debate with Ségolène Royal as an Alpe-d'Huez stage in the Tour de France culminating in next Sunday's election. As for me, in boxing terms, I hope that Sarko gets KO'd by Ségo next Sunday.

I need words to express my gut-level aversion to Nicolas Sarkozy. Paul Keating is surely a kind of poet, like Barry Humphries, and it goes without saying that I don't share their rare quality of linguistic imagination. I don't know how you would say "mangy maggot" in French... mainly because I'm not quite sure what a mangy maggot would look like. But, if I did, that might just be the right expression for Sarko. However I shouldn't talk that way, at least not before I get naturalized. Sarkozy has a good chance of being elected. In sporting language, I would then stand the risk of receiving a red card and getting sent off the field.

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