There’s an uproar in France today among baccalauréat students because their English exam expected them to discuss the ways in which a certain fictitious personage managed to cope with the horrors of the bombardment of his village. Apparently hordes of students had simply never encountered the verb “to cope”, and they’re now trying to suggest that this is some kind of exotic or antiquated verb. That’s to say, they’re attempting vainly to drown their ignorance in ridicule.
The funniest thing of all is that “cope” is a variant of the French noun “coup” (a blow dealt to an opponent). So, coping with an obstacle means that you’ve managed to deal it a blow.
I reckon that, back in my native Australia, I must have been about five years old when I mastered the verb “to cope”. That’s what our life Down Under was all about: coping with adversity.
I’m convinced that the main reason why the French run into so many problems in trying to master English is that they find it hard to liberate themselves from the powerful attraction of their own native language. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that French readers, running into the verb “cope”, imagine vaguely that it might mean “écoper” (to cop punishment). Consequently, the students were confused by the possibility that they might be expected to talk about the ways in which the fictitious personage copped punishment from the horrors of the bombardment of his village. Or maybe this fellow was intent upon punishing the forces behind the bombardment. Or whatever…
In the domain of foreign languages, the French can be terribly stubborn. For years, I’ve been trying spasmodically to point out that a sad individual who has a constantly negative relationship with the problems of existence should not be designated as a “looser”, because the verb “to lose” and the adjective “loose” have strictly nothing in common. But French people persist in making this error.
These days, I’ve come to sense the kind of English traps that French people fall into. For example, they’re almost incapable of understanding the elementary adverb “solely” in a simple sentence such as “It’s solely a question of taste”. In spite of their adverb “seulement”, they don’t seem to grasp the simple fact that “solely” is a blend of “only” and “uniquely”.
Once, when I worked as a technical writer with a major French software company, their technical genius tried to convince me that standard English is simply a convenient second-class language, useful solely as a communication tool, which doesn’t deserve to be taken too seriously. To Hell with Shakespeare and all the rest! I told my colleague [now a senior Internet administrator] that I didn’t agree. He smiled, as only a smug English-speaking Frenchman might smile.