Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Might as well give up…

As we heard the other day, the mood among the board members of the London 2012 Olympic Bid is generally one of defeatism.

It is ironic that it is the Parisians who have caused this, for when the word first appeared during the first world war there was, so the story goes, some discussion among the forty allegedly immortal members of the Académie française (the lowercase “f” is correct here) about whether the equivalent French word from which our word derives* should be included in their dictionary.

Some argued that it should not, on the grounds that such a thing could not exist in a French context. This seems illogical, for they do list many other words which they might want to consider as un-French concepts, for example sadomasochisme, though in popular parlance they dissociate themselves from such a practice by calling it le vice anglais**.

Perhaps after the recent announcement defeatism will also be attributed to us by the French, but for the moment the new ninth edition of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française simply has:
DÉFAITISME n. m. XXe siècle. Dérivé de défaite.
Manque de confiance dans l'issue victorieuse d'une guerre et, par ext., dans le succès d'une négociation, d'un programme de gouvernement, dans le succès électoral d'un parti ; le fait d'exprimer cette opinion et de miner la confiance en la victoire.

*And we also get morale from the French, first used by us in the modern sense in 1831.

**Whatever goes on at English public schools, this is quite unfair, the eponyms being the French Marquis de Sade and the Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.


The Continental Op said...

I always thought that "le vice anglais" referred to "buggery", which, I'm told, is not unknown in British public schools. It is indeed odd that the French would credit the English with sado-masochism. Perhaps they're thinking of the food?

Tony said...

Yes, I thought that too, Continental Op, but apparently not. It's all that six-of-the-best that gets us this reputation, and the alleged connection goes back a long way: in the Restoration period, Snarl in Shadwell's The Virtuoso (1676) made, perhaps for the first time, the connection between pedogogical punishment in English schools and addiction to le vice anglais in later life.