French political language
Lost in translation
A glossary of new French doublespeak
Jan 12th 2013 | PARIS | from the print edition
A TIMELY gift landed unexpectedly on The Economist’s desk during the holidays. Entitled “Lost in Translation: a glossary of new French doublespeak”, it offers a handy guide to decoding political speech under François Hollande’s Socialist government. Both the left and the right in France have a tradition of disguising policy with woolly or euphemistic turns of phrase. Lionel Jospin, a Socialist prime minister, for instance, privatised more companies than his right-wing predecessors without ever using the word, preferring “opening up the capital”. For those bemused by the linguistic ambiguity of Mr Hollande’s team, here are some helpful extracts from the glossary:
Sécurisation de l’emploi (improving job security): phrase used to launch current labour-market negotiations, designed to introduce more flexibility (see banned words).
Partenaires sociaux (social partners): unions and bosses who do such negotiating, not to be confused with dating, square-dancing, doubles tennis etc.
Flexibilité (flexibility): outlawed word prompting grim visions of unregulated Anglo-Saxon free-for-all (see Libéral).
Laissez-faire: iffy Anglo-Saxon phrase with no place in French (see Libéral).
Redressement des comptes publics (putting right the public finances): budget cuts and tax increases, never combined with austérité or rigueur (see banned words). Not to be confused with…
Redressement du pays dans la justice (putting right the country with justice): soaking the rich with taxes. Not to be confused with…
Redressement productif (productive renewal): name of ministry responsible for stopping industrial closures, or failure thereof (see Florange, Peugeot).
Plan social (redundancy plan resulting from aforementioned factory closures): job losses, not to be confused with organisation of social life, bars, clubs etc.
Modernisation de l’action publique (modernisation of public action): eliminating public-sector inefficiencies, elsewhere known as budget cuts.
Nécessité d’équilibrer financièrement les retraites (Need to balance pension funds): pension reform looms again.
Minable (pathetic): departure of French national who considers taxes too high (see Depardieu, G).
Social-démocrate (social democrat): moderately acceptable form of Scandinavian-style Socialist.
Social-libéral (social liberal): suspicious form of pseudo-Socialist who embraces free-marketry.
Libéral (liberal): rare species with dodgy Anglo-Saxon motives, set on undermining French way of life (don’t see Frédéric Bastiat).
Ultra-libéral (ultra-liberal): beyond the pale, eg, The Economist.