Friday, August 8, 2014

A fou-faraw in France

In our earlier post, 

we offered a linguistic deconstruction of a recent incident in which which the éminence grise of the Front National, Le Pen père, uttered what was alleged  by his detractors  to be a Discouraging Word, disobliging to la gent israélite.  He denied this.  (In earlier times, this incident might have been settled among gentlemen, with swords, on the meadow at dawn;  nowadays, we slug it out on TV.)

This evening, there was an interesting update.
 “All Things Considered” just broadcast a useful report from France by Eleanor Beardsley. She asked a French rabbi whether he held the Front National responsible for the upsurge of (sometimes violent) antisemitism in France.  “He just laughed”:  The perps in the recent attacks, he explained, are overwhelmingly immigrant “Muslim, African, and North African” -- less FN than FLN, as it were.  As for the FN, it is more worried about precisely that population, than about long-assimilated Jews.

Politics-and-language note:
That piece, though it did not go deep, was somewhat startling in actually naming ethnicities, rather than just referring to “des jeunes”, which is the French media codeword when Maghrebis get out of line.   (Off course, this may have less to do with any courage on the part of NPR, than the fact that the roster of taboo topics  differs from country to country.) Additionally, Ms Beardsly added another bit of profiling, when she reported that, at the end of a recent demonstration, “the male protesters” broke loose can commited acts of vandalism.  Not:  “the protesters, who were mostly men” or what have you.   In fact, the detail added is in some ways so odd (particularly since the issues here, unlike those of the counter-demonstrations relating to the Mariage pour tous, are by no means gender-related) , that I wonder whether it was not so much a swipe at the masculine gender, as a crytpo-French reference to, precisely, “les jeunes” (al-shabaab), and thus covertly ethnic in reference.

[Update 9 August 2014]   As mentioned, in French media-speak, des jeunes is code for ‘misbehaving Maghrebis’ -- what the American media call “inner-city youth” -- except that, in France, they are rather ‘outer-city’ youth, since they live in what, topographically, Americans would call “the suburbs”, but which, sociographically, is quite other than that:  la banlieue, the barely-policeable belt around Paris -- think of it as the inner city turned inside out.  Within the banlieue, you will find the cités, referenced above.   And this morning, this new bit of French political semantics, courtesy of Le Figaro:

De la banlieue rouge à la banlieue «verte» ?
La banlieue du chanteur Renaud a disparu.

The rouge (‘Red’) refers to Communist (Stalinist) influence:  it is a metaphor that the whole world borrowed from the Bolsheviks, after the Russian use.   But the verte -- the ‘Green’?
My first thought was that it referred to les écolos -- and indeed, there are pockets of (let us call it) Ecocentrism out in the banlieue as well, mixed in with everything else.   That is the only sense now current in America (“Go Green!” -- in your grandfather’s day, it referred rather to greenhorns -- newbies to you).  But that is not it.

The headline goes on:

Les anciens bastions du PCF ont cédé face à la montée du communautarisme musulman.

Ah…. ha!   The reference is actually to Muslim identity-politics, coded by the color made especially familiar by Gaddhafi  (he brandished his little  Green Book, a counterpart to Mao’s Little Red Book).    This is not an essentially French usage; it is being borrowed from another culture.   And while the association of green with Islam is widespread, it is not the only color-code in play:  Hizbollah uses (green on) yellow; al-Qaeda and ISIL use (white on) black.   So if you ever see a forest of green banners marching towards your cul-de-sacs, relax:  it might have been worse.

[Update 10 August 2014]  We suggested above that the somewhat “off”-sounding “male demonstrators” might have been in part a crypto-Gallicism, unconsciously inspired by the special contemporary French political use of the codeword les jeunes.  A similar apparent case of unconscious loan-translation appears in this morning’s New York Times, datelined Paris.   In prose reminiscent of a high-end menu, as gooey and thick as pâté de foie gras, we read of a state-subsidized (and rather louche-sounding) real-estate speculator, remaking the Marais section of Paris (“one of the city’s trendiest” districts, the reporter reassures us, lest some francophone-capable American readers hesitate to venture into a section whose name literally means ‘swamp, morass’) into an “Epicurean Village” (epicurean  not in the sense of the  ataraxia of πίκουρος,  but of self-indulgent sybarites):

“It’s going to be totally designed, with a library so people can think about the meat.”

(I blink.  Did the sentence really say that?  Let’s re-read it slowly:

going to be
totally designed,
with a library
so people can think

so people can think
so people can think
about the meat.

Yep, that’s what it says all right.)

Quoting the silk-scarve bedraped entrepreneur, our blithe and flighty reporter goes on:

“Over there will be the cheesemonger, where the cheese will be hidden in designer drawers, and taken out and explained.”

All right -- now I’ve lost the readers’ confidence;  you must think I’m making this up.  So here’s the link; go see for yourself:

One pictures the scene:  “You, cheesemonger!  Explain that cheese!”

Our reporter continue, this time in her own prose, rather than that of the sleek little Frenchman:

Fashionably dressed butchers, …

(Actually we must pause here, overcome.  “Fashionably dressed butchers”, what an image.   Trendily attired plumbers;  dishwasher-repairmen in gay raiment …  -- Let’s try again.)

Fashionably dressed butchers, bakers, and restaurateurs  will work in an upscale collective  --

(No, sorry,  got to pause again for breath.  A “collective” -- shades of those olden times in Berkeley!  But -- faut préciser -- an upscale collective.   Très chic. -- Truly, today’s feminized-and-yuppifed New York Times is priceless.  --- Let’s try one more time:)

Fashionably dressed butchers, bakers, and restaurateurs  will work in an upscale collective, dominated by the principal of zero waste, 

[ => “The  Principle   of  Zero   Waste”  <= ]

peddling [Is that really the verb you want? -- Copy editor] high-concept foods from mod spaces …

(“High-concept foods” -- “Mod spaces”.  Can’t make this stuff up.  -- Well, she can. -- To resume: )

… high-concept foods from mod spaces, using  biological products  sourced only from French farmers.

(We fall exhausted on our labors.)

Anyhow, en tant que philologue,  allow me to draw your attention to that phrase, “biological products”.   For the average American reader, I suspect, that does not have quite the effect that the gushing author intended.   To the ear of the anglo-saxon (as the French call us), that sounds suspiciously like a tissue sample, or an excretion, or something suspected in an ebola outbreak.   But what is really meant is what, in the preceding paragraph, she styled more idiomatically as “farm-fresh gastronomy” (semantically, there is a bit of an enallege adjectivi there, since what is “farm-fresh” here is not really the gastronomy, but the food which the gastronomes are shoving down their pie-holes, washed down with a nice chablis;  but let that pass).   The sense, surely, is an unconscious semantic loan-translation from French biologique: it means ‘natural, organic’, and (among the trendy) is usually abbreviated bio  (as in : des produits bio;  the modifier does not inflect for number or gender).

(Enough, enough.  Epicurean village delenda est.  Times, cancel my subscription.)

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