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Groups, parties, pedantry and perfectionism

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b2ap3_thumbnail_working-party.pngLike most industries, market research has its own particular jargon, and a lot of French market-research speak is cluttered with anglicisms, modified to a greater or lesser degree. As words get dragged across the planet, they undergo what I call the “Brussels effect”. An example will make this clear.

Many – oh, too many – years ago when I was a young virgin translator, a client chastised me for mistranslating groupe de travail by working-party... Shame on me. We’re not here to have fun. “It’s working-group” they told me. And, true enough, it wasn’t. The correct term (in those days) was indeed working-party, but Euro-babble, Globish or just plain lowest-common-denominatorism had screamed for simplification to harmonize it with other European languages, as in German Arbeitsgruppe, Italian gruppo di lavoro, Portuguese grupo de trabalho, and so on. And today, perhaps, working-group it may well be.

The French make quite a to do about their language’s gradual disappearance from international exchange (brazen advertisement coming up: see my soon-to-be-forthcoming book French out of France) while belly-aching just as loudly about the decline in grammar, spelling, etc., among the population at large. At the same time, they fail perhaps to appreciate that that which maintains a certain static complexity of language disappears when the language become widely used. This is the inevitable result of a language evolving into a lingua franca. Now, French wants to have its brioche, as well as eat it. And while they may legitimately complain about their sloppy writing, it is nothing to the carnage visited upon that most sacred of tongues, namely English.

One of French’s most egregious examples of market-research speak is their use of “learnings”. Firstly, typically, it is the present participle of the verb to learn (and not a noun), and rarely used before the mid-20th century. Secondly, to many English speakers, its plural offends the ear, but presumably not the one that’s perfectly used to teachings or hearings. In fact its pedigree goes as far back as Shakespeare who used it in Cymbeline (1611) and even Caxton (1483) in his translation of Geoffrey IV de la Tour Landry’s Livre pour l’enseignement de ses filles (“The Book of the Knight in the Tower”), written for the education of his daughters. So if it’s good enough for the head-splitting cavaliers of the Hundred Years War, it’s good enough for the hair-splitters of 600 years later…

Language changes. Is it for the better or for the worse? I don’t know, but neither Brits nor the French would be speaking what we do today if we’d always been perfect. Our languages have become what they are due in part to thousands, millions, of careless mistakes and sloppy writing.

But it doesn’t mean you have to :o)

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Guest Tuesday, 10 December 2019
You are here: Home Frogologoblog Simon Groups, parties, pedantry and perfectionism