Written on: 15. 9. 2011 in the category: Featured news

We must say au revoir to French imposters

When Ryan Tubridy, in the company of four Irish-American heroes from 9/11, last weekend spoke about “an ommahj”, did they have the least idea that he meant actually “homage”? That’s the word they would have used, and it’s the word Shakespeare would have used, and just about everybody has used since the Norman-French were kicking the tripe out of the poor old Anglo-Saxons, and making them pay homage to the invader.

In a way, that’s where the damage was done: three centuries of linguistic oppression of the English-speaking natives by their Norman overlords gave the English language a chronic linguistic inferiority complex. Not merely was French the language of state, law, church and royalty, but also of trade: hence the grocer, the butcher, the mason. Insecurity about its intellectual seriousness remains in the DNA of English, which is perhaps why English is so reluctant to make adjectives from words of Anglo-Saxon roots. The adjective corresponding to the Anglo-Saxon “law” is the French “legal”; to “king”, “royal”: to “tree”, “arboreal”.

English is apparently unable to develop itself internally in the way the French does, with words like “jealousy” out of “zeal” and “barrage” out of the French for “bar, and “sabotage” out of “sabot”, a clog. So the English language usually imports and then naturalises these words: thus we do not pronounce jealous “szahloo”, which is the approximate French pronunciation of their word “jaloux”. Nor do we say “bahrahhj, nor “sabotahhhj”.

All well and good: until we come to the matters referred to in yesterday’s column, namely art, and the human excrescence resulting there from, usually called “critics”. Now I do not tar all critics with the one brush: a handful of critics are clever, thoughtful and incisive, and they all work for this newspaper. The rest apparently never feel comfortable unless they are routinely inserting some needless French into every sentence. “The man of the hour” becomes “l’homme du jour”. “Of our time” becomes “de nos jours”. And “false” becomes “faux”, which is really ridiculous, because the two words have exactly the same meaning, and share the same Latin origin.

But it is French film critics qui prend le bloody biscuit: they deserve to be bound in barbed wire, dipped in honey, and lowered into an ants’ nest, with a sign around their neck saying, “I shagged your queen.” (I am heroically resisting the temptation to make a pun about “formidable” here, and I suspect I have succeeded). For if you crossed pretentiousness with affectation, bred the offspring with snobbery, and mated the result of that union with the love-child begotten by posturing out of incomprehensible jargon, the net result would be the language of French film critics.

These vile and inhuman creatures inhabit a world of tortuous abstractions, so infused with Marxist doggerel and the fatal toxins of deconstructionist post-modernism — no, nor me neither — that it is impossible to understand a single word they say. One of the concepts they recently introduced was “cultural homage”, which naturally, being illiterate, they spelt with two ms. But instead of English-language critics giving these bounders the good kicking they deserved, and then throwing their broken torsos into the river by the left bank — where the insane truly belong: forgive me, the temptation proved too strong — the Anglophone critics promptly copied them. Hence the recent re-importation of “homage”, but now with “m” twice-over, and pronounced “ommahjz”, simply because the French cannot pronounce “h”. To copy what is in fact a crippling linguistic disability is truly a sign of insecurity, rather like preferring the Chinese pronunciation of: “A sorry laurel lorry slowly rolling from Ossory to Offaly.”

But that’s English for you. Why else have we started calling coffee by every name except coffee? Why is even the word “American” now rendered into Italian? Why is the company which makes Guinness and Scotch whisky called the absurd “Diageo”? Why are IBM personal computers called “Ienovo”? Why do all car-manufacturers make their products sound like rivers in Italy, or mountain ranges in Spain, (or even, in the case of a Japanese 4×4, a Mexican town whose name in Spanish, God help us, actually means “Holy Faith”) but almost never anything in English? Why do we say “chef de cabinay” instead of “head of cabinet”, with a short “e” and a hard “t”, especially since a) “cabinet” already existed in English and b) the French originally made the word from the English word “cabin”?

As if the cultural insecurity of all Anglophones is not already deep enough, we cis-Atlanticists apparently now have to start sounding American. Ronan Keating sings “Shahrry”, the Grimes brothers talk as if they’re Californian, and almost no British singer sounds remotely British. Cliff Richard even sings English hymns with an American accent, and presumably croons: “Gahd save the Keween.” Sinead O’Connor’s guinea might on occasions be a few shillings short of the requisite 21, but at least she’s absolutely spot-on with her recent declaration: people should sing in their own accents.

There now: that’s what Ryan Tubridy and his bloody ommahj have done to me. But I’ll be better tomorrow.

Are you quite sure, old fellow?