Le casting, le hardeur . . .
by Adrian Tahourdin
The 14th summit of the francophone group l’Organisation internationale de la francophonie was held in Kinshasa last week. There are 56 member states, with a strong representation in West and sub-Saharan Africa. According to the organisation, which, among other things, hopes to share “the humanist values promoted by the French language”, 85 per cent of French speakers in the year 2050 will be living in Africa.
Continuing the stats: there are 220 million French speakers across the world, making it the planet’s ninth most widely spoken language. It is, surprisingly, the third most widely used language on the web. And, as we were reminded this summer, it is also the official language of the Olympic Games.
The Académie française, guardian of the “language of Molière”, has been desperately trying to slow incursions by the English language but how realistic is this in the age of the internet and globalization?
Even the country’s most highbrow newspaper Le Monde is not immune: recently it has printed headers such as “Standing ovation à Aix pour le ‘Written on Skin’, de George Benjamin et Martin Crimp” and, over a review of a recently opened exhibition in Paris, L’impressionisme, cette machine à cash-flow”. It can blithely talk of how “M. Obama fait du ‘forcing’ sur sa réforme de la santé"; he is not, we are reminded, a “punching ball”. “Soyons fair-play!”, an editorial on last summer’s riots in London opened, no doubt with a nod to the matter at hand.
But then the French have always seemed to enjoy taking English words or phrases and tweaking them in such a way that they seem unfamiliar to us, as in “un restaurant de bon standing”, or “Un long travelling sans gêne”. Some of these bastardizations are frankly ugly: “le relookage” (to give a new look to, from the verb “relooker”), for example, or the admittedly not widely used “remastériser”, as in The Beatles’ albums have been “remastérisés”.
We have become used to “le marketing”, “le lobbying”, “le lifting” (“Avec son lifting, on dirait une vieille star du porno”, in an article about Putin), “le casting” (as in the appointment of Baroness Ashton to an EU top job having been “une erreur de casting”), “le sponsoring”; we can add “le cloud computing”, “le teasing”, “le timing”, “le fooding”, “le leasing”, “le coaching”, “le scrapbooking”. In South Africa, Johannesburg is “la ville-happening”.
I particularly like the verb snober, to snub, as in “Une partie du milieu musical français continue de snober le travail du compositeur américain John Adams” (Le Monde), which sounds odd to an Anglo-Saxon ear - even if the noun snob dates back at least as far as Proust.
Sometimes it almost seems as if French language users have given up the fight, as demonstrated by this list of verbs: interviewer, boycotter (and the noun le boycottage), squatter, cliquer, surfer, zapper (as in “il zappe mais ne surfe pas”), swinguer, as in “Londres a swingué dans les années 60”.
The list can appear endless: le raider Lord Rothschild, le flash-back and le flash-forward, les fashion victims, le has been (Le Monde’s neat characterization of Tony Blair), la strip-teaseuse, and, a favourite of mine, le hardeur - a porn star (silent “h” of course), who is presumably expected to display plenty of ardeur.
Of the annual literary rentrée, “beaucoup d’auteurs confirmés sont dans les starting-blocks” means that a lot of authors are about to publish books. Writing about one of her authors, the Flammarion boss Teresa Cremisi asserted “Cet écrivain [Michel Houellebecq], il ne faut pas le ‘starifier’ mais le lire” in November 2010. Even in a prestigious Pléiade volume, the reader is asked to “voir la table des copyrights” - what’s wrong with "droit d’auteur"?
On the sporting front, “le sprint est une question de timing”, says the Italian cyclist Alessandro Petacchi, while the Spanish footballer Carlos Puyol is described as having “une chevelure de hard-rockeur”. In tennis we have “le tie-break”, while “le passing” (shot) enables le tennisman Jo-Wilfrid Tsonga to “breaker”. There is plenty of talk of le challenge, le burn-out, le recordman etc.
Social networks are a natural home for anglicisms, naturellement: "facebookiens", “blogueurs”, “j’ai jamais twitté”. “Pour arrêter de recevoir cette newsletter, répondez simplement à ce mail . . ”. As the election slogan earlier this year had it, “Au lieu de geeker va voter”.