Wednesday, June 23, 2010

French swearing update

Readers wishing to brush up on their knowledge of crude French language can take advantage of front-page stories that have been appearing over the last few days in the prestigious and diplomatic sporting daily L'Equipe, which rarely resorts to sensationalism or even raises its voice.

If I maybe permitted to translate those two lines, I would settle for something along the following lines: "Go and get sodomized, you dirty offspring of a whore!" Nicolas Anelka, born near Versailles 31 years ago, certainly uses a colorful style of French. As far as I know, though, he has never studied literature in a French university.

Ever since I first set foot in France, at a time when I knew just enough poor French to book into a cheap Latin Quarter hotel, I've been amused by the way in which many English-speaking foreigners imagine that the French swear.

It's most unlikely that a gendarme, shit upon by a bird, would cry out the two words "sacré bleu" and reach for his pistol. The archaic interjection is a single term, "sacrebleu", and there's no accent on the final letter of "sacre". So, the three syllables are pronounced sah-creuh-bleuh, not sack-cray-blue. It's not the adjective "sacré" meaning "sacred", but rather the associated noun "sacre" meaning "consecration", akin to "coronation", as in the expression "consecration of a bishop". The original etymology of "sacrebleu" is "consecrated by God", and the term "Dieu" (God) was modified, no doubt intentionally, to the adjective for the color blue… in much the same way that "by our Lady" evolved into "bloody". But I insist upon the fact that no self-respecting French swearer, today, not even a gendarme or a soccer player, would use this old-fashioned interjection.

The equally archaic "sapristi" can only be found today in Tintin comics. It's a corruption of the term "sacristie" (sacristy or church vestry), which designates the room where priests and choir boys hang out together, before and after the mass.

My aged neighbor Madeleine assures me that she has never heard the terms "sacrebleu" and "sapristi"… but she may well be simply unwilling to acknowledge that she recognizes such blasphemous words. She told me that the only vulgar interjections she uses are "zut" (rhymes with the English word "boot") and "pétard" (firecracker), which are particularly mild ways of exclaiming "shit".

Getting back to the language employed in a soccer context, I must mention briefly a French attitude that has always intrigued me. People proclaim that top-level soccer players should be careful about what they do and say, because they've become role models for countless French boys. Now, if this were indeed true (which it probably isn't), then the educational authorities should step in with a view to eradicating any such unhealthy situation. The last thing in the world that wise and conscientious French parents would wish for is to see their sons acquiring moral principles, good manners and fine language from uncouth and uneducated fucking soccer players!

PRECISION: I've noticed that the French TV channel M6 has revealed that Anelka's words to Domenech might not in fact be those that appeared on the front page of L'Equipe.

Here's my translation of the revised version: "Go and get sodomized. You can do what you like with your shitty system." That's nicer than the first version, isn't it.

No comments:

Post a Comment