I studied French in high school for three years. I did poorly. After high school, I spent the next 50 years or so ignoring the language—until we settled in Paradise where French is the lingua franca. I have now faced up to the challenge. I am proud to say that after very few years, I have become totally fluent – at least when it comes to asking for the check, saying "thank you" when I get it, and inquiring about the location of the toilet. Beyond that, I struggle unsuccessfully to overcome my ignorance.
One of the ways I work to improve my language skill is to read the local daily French-language newspaper. I usually have no idea what I am reading, but every now and then I catch a familiar word.
Yesterday, Pinks brought home a copy of “Le News” printed in English! But it is clear the paper is prepared in French and then translated into English by someone who speaks as much English as I speak French. Kind of reminds me of those complicated toys that need assembly: the toy is made in China, and the assembly instructions are set out in Chinese, then translated into Japanese, then Russian, and from Russian to English: “Embrace screw with large hole and engage.” You get the picture.
In yesterday’s English language paper, I found this gem: “The electrical homulgation went from a recommended to a mandatory status…. Workers who are already homulgated benefit from a recycling." Ouch.
The French are not the only ones who have some difficulty expressing themselves in simple English. Americans are wont to use neologisms where, for some reason, speaking plain English may be offensive to some. I am not sure when, for the first time, some genius newswriter described a military retreat as an "advance to the rear". Perhaps it was not a journalist, but a General. One would think the New York Times for sure would be above that kind verbal gamesmanship. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Perhaps as a result of right-wing attacks on the media in general, the Times news writers have become exceedingly cautious these days while its columnists seem not to hesitate to speak in simple language. I offer up two examples:
Remember the 2004 election? At the Republican Convention, the organizers staged an effective college football halftime display with the use of “flip” and “flop”signs to castigate John Kerry. From that time on, the first meaning of ‘flip-flop” in the dictionary was no longer my favorite form of footwear.
So this year, when former Sen. Rick Santorum --apparently unable to find anything else deserving of the serious attention--elevated contraception to a campaign issue, the New York Times, on January 31, ran a front page article reporting that Mr. Santorum was willing to restrict the citizenry’s access contraception on a state-by-state basis. But a week later Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote that Santorum favored unrestricted access to contraceptives. Huh? So that day I emailed the following letter to the paper’s editor:
"To the editor:
In his February 18 column, Ross Douthat writes Santorum agrees "that artificial birth control should be legal and available." But on its January 31 front page, the New York Times reported "Rick Santorum...favors allowing states to decide whether to ban birth control." Is the Times wrong or is Santorum, smelling the possibility of actually being the candidate, already flip-flopping leftward? In either event, shouldn't your readers be informed?"
You would, I am sure, be shocked, shocked, to learn the Times neither published nor responded to my letter and we all remain in the dark as to whether former United States Senator Rick Santorum really said he wants to grant to each state of the union the option to ignore any part of the United States Constitution it currently disfavors. (Hmm. I thought we decided that question 150 years ago, non?)
Of course, the most dramatic flip-flopper in this campaign is not Rick Santorum, but newly minted “severe conservative” Mitt Romney who, once upon not so long ago, supported abortion rights, gay-rights, gun control, amnesty for undocumented immigrants, mandated health insurance, Planned Parenthood, and a number of other Satan-inspired policies and institutions. But when the Times called attention to Romney’s stunning reversal of his views on all of the foregoing, they didn't call it flip-flopping, but instead used my new favorite ”advance-to-the-rear” locution: they referred to Romney’s pandering as....ya gotta love this...“ideological migration."
Do you think the paper has a special department monitoring this stuff? What would it be called? “Department of Cosmetic Language ”? How about “Brain Fart Department?” Or better still, in Romney's case, the “L,L, POF! Department”.
Unsurprisingly, the French pay no attention to any of our politics. Mention the Republican debates to them, or our presidential campaign in general, and they look at you as if you had two heads. They ain’t perfect, but the French do not believe in Satan, and they would not tolerate for a moment anybody who tried to tell them how to manage their reproductive equipment. In the local Presidential campaign (btw, the incumbent changed his mind and is running for another term), the issues are the environment, road construction, and traffic. Or so I am told by Murielle, my adorable hair cutter. She does a much better job than Mario on 52d Street. And no matter how short she cuts my hair, I find it necessary to go back every week. Amazing, non?