Thursday, 4 September 2008

Police constables and personal computers

...and political correctness; it's a handy abbreviation with several uses and there is one more which will be kept for a later post.

We keep colloquial abbreviations like that one for things which are prevalent or familiar, but everything must be named; some semanticists suggest that if a thing has no name it cannot exist. This was one of the principles of Orwell's Newspeak, and there is a story, probably apocryphal, that during the second world war the Académie française banned the word défaitisme because the concept was un-French.

However, we can always use the original foreign words for non-native concepts, so that we might invite a friendly judoka to join us in the dojo for some randori. Similarly, the French refer to le binge-drinking, classifying it as an English vice like sadomasochism, or putting mint sauce on roast lamb. We all accepted that French children grew up with the right attitude to alcohol, mastering the art of moderate drinking fom the age of six, and it was certainly true that public vomiting was rarely to be seen in French towns. Long-term adult drinking was another matter: in 2005 a government study classified 5 million French people as "excessive drinkers", and estimated that alcohol was directly responsible for 23,000 deaths in France and indirectly a further 22,000.

But it seems that this is changing, and that there is a trend among French youth to drink more, to drink in the streets, and to drink in order to get drunk. They have a long way to go to catch us up with these sad practices, but the omens are not good: measures are being taken to try to arrest the trend among the young (e.g. a video entitled Boire trop featuring rape, fighting and collapsing in a coma), but if these are not successful it may be that in a few years tourists strolling along the trottoirs of Montmartre will have to be careful where they tread.

At any rate, they no longer use our term for it exclusively: they have coined la biture express and la défonce minute, though the awesome power of our language may mean that they will go on talking of le binge-drinking for a while yet.

No comments: