Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true. (Tennyson)

Happy New Year

And so it came to pass. As the Midnight Hour was striking (in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) The President – despite earlier heavy hints of major changes to The Boring Old Presidential New Year Address – addressed The People in a thoroughly conventional (boring?) fashion. The music for the opening two lines of La Marseillaise. The camera raced across the darkened Elysée courtyard. Then – looking (it must be admitted) more than somewhat stiff for several seconds – The President spoke.

Sat behind his Elysée desk, with right-on street artist Obey’s Marianne hanging from the wall behind (see November 2nd post). An important single word from that painting got into camera focus. Thrice, no less. What word? Fraternité. Very New Year’s Eve.

However, a major element of President Macron’s New Year message was fundamentally different. Its longueur. Not since President de Gaulle, all of 56 years ago, has a ‘message’ been that wordy. SEVENTEEN MINUTES AND FIFTY ONE SECONDS. Only 10 seconds more and the All-Comers’ Record would have been his … surely in perpetuity.

Solid patriotic tropes (‘Never forget we are the French nation’/’I count on the intelligence of the French’/’The French people are a great people’/’make the French renaissance happen’) stiffened the backbone, as the President variously referred to

  • Europe’s ‘revival’: ‘Europe is good for France’/’the French should not be tempted by nationalists or sceptics’/’consultation of citizens’ (yes indeed – no Elections in 2018, so we’re going to be ‘consulted’ on our Euro-views instead)
  • housing: renewing last July’s unfulfilled pledge that by end-2017 no-one would be sleeping on the streets or in the open, he cautioned ‘there’s still lots to be done’
  • ‘a humane and efficient’ immigration policy: those with asylum rights will be taken in ‘but France cannot allow in everybody … and for those without asylum rights who have no chance of getting French nationality … there will be simple rules applied with rigour’. In other words O-U-T spells out, and out you must go. [Last year, there were 100,000 demands for asylum in France. The Front National fulminated against this ‘procedure for massive immigration’.]

But the nub of The New Year Message was that change would continue in 2018 ‘at the same rhythm’ and ‘with the same intensity’ as 2017. ‘Work’ said the President ‘is at the very heart of our societal project’. Major structural reforms of unemployment benefit, vocational training and apprenticeships will be introduced – with well over 9% of the population unemployed substantive progress is urgently awaited.

‘I will carry on doing what you elected me to do … I will always listen, I will always explain … but, finally, I will take action … that’s what you expect of me’ said the President.

No sooner done and dusted than near-instant acknowledgement that The Presidential Discourse had gone on a bit. Barely had he finished addressing The Nation on so-2017 boring-old-terrestrial-telly when … he was a-tweeting and getting down with the kids (whilst standing up).

He began by saying he’d been told his 18 mins. New Year’s Message was too long. So The Young would just get ONE MINUTE. Promises, promises: unfulfilled, unfulfilled. He ended his annus mirabilis badly: he missed his one minute target by … 59 seconds.

The President decided to close with an hommage: ‘Ask yourself every morning’ he said ‘what you can do for the country’. A strange half-echo of JFK’s Inaugural:

[Is it a spooky coincidence that that’s my second mention in this post of a 1961 event!]

Are They Dead or Alive? How can one tell?

  1. An anonymous ‘person close to the P.M.’ was quoted in Le Monde saying ‘the real news is the death of the Socialist Party. The Socialists are entirely invisible and inaudible’. If this is ‘news’ that anonymity should’ve been reading my blog earlier. [But apologies are due to Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, former Socialist Education Minister, once-rising political superstar and erstwhile possible candidate to be leader of The Formerly Powerful Organisation Known As The Socialist Party. My previous post adopted a rather scoffing tone at the idea that NV-B had launched her bid to be Socialist Party leader by publishing her ‘manifesto’ in a new literary magazine. Apologies because NV-B wasn’t actually seeking the leadership of a Dead Party … she was in fact putting out her cv for a job in publishing. And she’s got it. She’s in charge of an imprint producing heavyweight intellectual essays.]
  2. The Formerly Powerful Organisation Known As Les Républicains (France’s (increasingly) conservative Party) seems in a parlous state following the election of its own extremely conservative Leader, Wauquiez (An extract from his post-election interview with 6 European papers, including Daily Telegraph: ‘When the right doesn’t do its job, the extreme right is strengthened. In France, the right hasn’t done its job for all too long. I want a right which once again takes on the ideas of the right and which carries out the policies of the right’. Certainly not an over-coded message.) Les Républicains’ online Calendar of Events shows zero ‘events’ in January … and doesn’t even bother to give us any months thereafter. But their website does, helpfully, go into excruciating detail on the voting procedures for last month’s now-done-and-dusted Party Presidential Election. Out-of-date Parties never seem to grasp the importance of up-to-date websites.
  3. It’s probably the case that we’re living through the last painful days of the Front National. Soon, says Mme Le Pen, its death will be pronounced following the consultation of Party members. But fret not. The Front National is only getting a make-over, complete with fresh moniker, so as better to resemble those charming ultra-Right Parties in Poland, Hungary and Austria and become (pause for foul and frightening effect) ‘a Party of Government’.

‘Tain’t What You Say or Write (It’s The Way That You Say or Write It)

For those too impatient and unable thus to derive all the benefits of deferred gratification … please jump straight to 1:08 to get the Full Fitzgerald.

So what’s this all about? Something Completely Different, but definitely part of the ever-changing zeitgeist.

It concerns the Gender Culture Wars being fought over ‘inclusive writing’ and the ‘interpunct’ (aka the middle dot, interpoint, centre dot or middot) ie an ‘·’ which resembles a floating full stop. They are seen as a means of fighting against sexist stereotypes reinforced by Grammar Rules.

This kicked off a couple of years ago when a 36 page ‘Practical Guide to Public Communication without Sexual Stereotyping‘ was issued by France’s High Council for Equality Between Women and Men. The Council’s role is consultative, but it’s there to promote equal rights. [The document’s in French – but do glance at p. 26 for an eye-catching photo of Finance Ministers/Central Bank Governors (it’s worth more than a few words): it may even help neanderthals appreciate the extent of The Problem].

The Guide was scarcely noticed when published. But it highlighted several French Grammar Rules which, said the Council, only serve to reinforce sexual stereotyping. The Council produced 10 ‘practical recommendations’. For example, the High Council urged the re-adoption of 2,000 jobs, titles and functions which had been there in the Middle Ages, but got wiped out. There’s no reason, they said, ‘to make women invisible’. So they called eg for the adoption of ‘Madame la directrice’ not ‘Madame le directeur’.

Another Rule provides that the masculine gender takes precedence over the feminine. The Rule was interestingly reinforced when an early member of the Académie française (established by Richelieu in 1647 to be ‘defenders of the French language’) stated that ‘the masculine is more noble than the feminine’.

An excellent article in The Economist ‘Why the French are arguing over a small dot’ summed up this issue of precedence. Linguistically speaking, explained The Economist, the problem is that ‘if only one directeur joins a group of 500 directrices, they collectively become directeurs‘. The High Council wanted to see the adoption of the usage les directeur·rice·s. And that was the rather low-key start to the ‘inclusive writing’ row.

Then, last year, a primary school grammar textbook was published. The High Council’s call had been heeded. The book had interpuncts all over its pages.

Let the Culture Wars begin.

  • A spluttering of Academicians followed. [Gender Note: of the current 34 Academicians – aka ‘immortals’ (yes really) – all but 4 are men]. They unanimously issued a ‘formal warning’ and spoke of the ‘mortal danger’ that this inclusive ‘aberration’ would bear for the future of the French language
  • 314 French teachers announced on Slate they would no longer teach the grammatical rule that the masculine took precedence over the feminine
  • Education Minister Blanquer denounced the interpunct as ‘ugly’; he raised the stakes by pronouncing in Parliament: ‘There is only one French language, only one grammar, only one Republic’
  • Sorbonne historian Rougeot wrote in (seriously) right-wing Valeurs actuelles (the clue to their right-wingedness is in the title ‘Current values’ … always on their way down) that interpunct supporters had a ‘totalitarian intent’: ‘By attacking language’ he wrote ‘this initiative attacks the intellectual and spiritual heart of our society’
  • And then P.M. Philippe brought an (official) halt to the brief linguistic revolution by formally issuing a ban on the use of inclusive language in any ‘official texts’.

For those wishing to create their very own interpunct, it’s Alt + 250 (or 0183) on numeric keypad. I’m told that for Macs it’s Shift-option(alt)-9. When will a keyboard first provide an interpunct?

And a very Happy 2018 to you all

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true. (Tennyson)

  1. I had the misfortune to listen through a mind-numbing discussion of the interpunkt involving one of the ‘Sages’, and the ‘necessité’ (sic) to create feminine title for roles. So for example ‘Madame le maire’ is the wife of a (male) mayor, whereas ‘Madame la maire’ is a female mayor. Clearly vital for clarity of communication.
    If I compare with English, we seem to be moving in the opposite more pc direction to remove differentiation between genders. Now all thespians are referred to in the media as ‘actors’ regardless of sex, (so this will prsumably mean two ‘Best Actor’ Oscars in the future), not to forget the incredibly inelegant ‘chairperson’.

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    1. ‘Chairperson’ – ‘incredibly inelegant’? New certainly. Why not address the person chairing the meeting as ‘Chair’? I have no problem with that myself. And as genders become more fluid the nomenclature ‘Chair’ avoids problems. Surely you don’t favour ‘Madam Chairwoman’ for women who are chairing a meeting?
      As for your remark about thespians. I assume you are perfectly happy with Lawyers, Farmers, Engineers, Carpenters, Plumbers, Lumberjacks (probably ok with them?), Accountants, Judges, Solicitors, Doctors, Surgeons, Nurses, Members of Parliament … indeed perhaps just about every occupation in the world. Yet you seemingly feel that Actors should be set apart, to be categorised in the same way as Kings/Queens/Lords/Ladies and other sex-defined layabouts and wastrels?
      Did you feel uncomfortable when policemen and policewomen all became ‘police officers’? And once women began fighting fires wasn’t it entirely appropriate that they should all be called ‘fire officers’?
      I don’t think any of that is ‘pc’ – an infinitely over-used derogatory phrase these days. It’s rather wholly appropriate for the century in which we now live.
      Surely one of the beauties of languages is the way they develop and change to reflect the world.

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