Le big flap over franglais (ca. 1974)

Extracted from a Life magazine comment column. Given Pompidou’s term of office, this would have been pre-1974.

Le big flap over franglais

Holdup

The French worry about three things: their food, their livers and their language. The current language flap–there’s always a current language flap–is (as usual since World War II) about the creeping American­ization of the mother tongue. This has resulted in the hybrid speech the French call franglais. Early this year President Pompidou, seeking “a way for us to distinguish ourselves from the U.S.,” authorized a slew of com­mittees to draw up a master list of gov­ernment-approved Americanisms. Unapproved words are henceforth forbidden to any government official in any decree, circular, instruction, letter or other document, including a lunch order for un sandwich. The de­cree contained not one word of fran­glais, which was what we Americans call a tour de force.

In Paris recently, curious to see how the Battle of Franglais was going out­side the government, I called my friends the Duponts (the Bridges).

“Come at l’heure du cocktail (cocktail time),” they told me. “We can’t go out. It’s hard to find un baby­sitter. ”

“Fine,” I said. “O.K.,” they said.

Passing a café (French) where the customers were crowded around les flippers (the pinball machines), I reached their home in un building (apartment house) de grand standing (not a tall but a luxury building). Le building was between un drugstore (oriental bazaar more than a drug­store) and un pressing (the cleaners). Nearby, les bulldozers were tearing up the street for un parking (parking lot).

I rang the bell. My friend Brigitte greeted me in un teeshirt, un sweater and un blue-jean.

“It’s le style hippie,” she said.

I

stepped into le hall, which led into le living (specifically, a living room and dining area combined), which led into une kitchenette. There was also a bedroom. Sounds of le rock were emanating from le pick-up (phono­graph). There were some glasses on le bar and un shaker. Brigitte was working on a photo album.

“Passez-moi le Scotch,” she asked. I passed her a bottle and a glass. “Non, non, ma chere. Le Scotch Tape. That’s le whiskey (Scotch).”

Her husband, un reporter for a French paper, arrived and took off son duffel-coat. He greeted me with un shake-hand. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, “but I was delayed by un flash (ur­gent bulletin). Then my car wouldn’t work properly. Trouble with le start­er (the choke). Tomorrow I’m to do une interview of une cover girl (mod­el) who has beaucoup de sex-appeal.”

A few friends dropped by.

“Have you read le best seller, Love Story?” one asked, conversationally.

“It was also a best seller in the U.S.,” I pointed out. “Actually, I’m a fan of French cuisine.”

“It’s terrible,” said the French­man. “I hardly had time for un sand­wich for le lunch. Le snack bar and le self-service (cafeteria) were both crowded. And so expensive. Un vrai hold-up (what a gyp)! I would have preferred un bifteck et des frites (beefsteak and French fries) or du rosbif (roast beef). I had only des toasts for breakfast.”

“I am in les public relations for la Générale Motors,” said one of the guests. “Part of le management. I used to be in le marketing but I would have preferred un job in l’engineering.”

“What do you do in your spare time?” I asked, sinking fast.

“J’adore faire du shopping for les gadgets. It’s really mon hobby.”

Another guest volunteered that he liked sports. “Le week-end, then I have time to watch un match de foot. I like le golf and le basket (basketball), but especially le foot (football, that is, soccer in France). Some players really know how to shoot (kick) the ball. It’s not du bluff. Occasionally, I like un cinema underground (avant-­garde movie).”

“Enjoy a vacation lately?” I stammered.

“Skiing is impossible at this time of year,” he said, sipping his drink. “Too many people waiting to go up les ski­lifts. Then in the evening if you enjoy le dancing, you’re too tired to ski.”

Feeling dazed, I left à l‘anglaise, which to a Frenchman means to take English leave but which in English means to take French leave.

by Marie-Claude Wrenn

Ms. Wrenn is une free-lance of French extraction. 


Le vieux loup à parlé (in some language or other).

4 responses to “Le big flap over franglais (ca. 1974)

  1. Pingback: Faites-vous du remue-méninges? | Playing in the World Game

  2. Pingback: The defense and the illustration of the English Language. | Playing in the World Game

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