|"Moi doesn't like to discuss my childhood. I plan to sell the
movie rights and I don't want to |
ruin the deal by telling you too much. Let's just say I grew up on a farm as an only child."
(Source: Herald Sun)
though the fiction that they are not is still kept up by italics and (with French words) conscientious efforts at pronunciation.
Such are tête-à-tête, ennui, status quo, raison d'être, eirenicon, négligé, and perhaps hundreds more. The novice who is told to avoid foreign words, and then observes that these English words are used freely, takes the rule for a counsel of perfection—not accepted by good writers, and certainly not to be accepted by him, who is sometimes hard put to it for the ornament that he feels his matter deserves. Even with the best will in the world, he finds that there are many words of which he cannot say whether they are yet English or not, as gaucherie, bêtise, camaraderie, soupçon, so that there is no drawing the line. He can only be told to1. Use foreign words and phrases if they afford much the shortest or clearest, if not the only way, to the desired meaning (this is usually true of the words we have called really English).
2. Use foreign words that have already passed into general English use.
To say distrait instead of absent or absent-minded, bien entendu for of course, sans for without (it is, like I guess, good old English but not good English), quand même for anyhow, penchant for liking or fancy, rédaction for editing or edition, coûte que coûte for at all costs, Schadenfreude for malicious pleasure, œuvre for work, alma mater (except with strong extenuating circumstances) for University—is pretension and nothing else. Moreover, what was said of special association or allusion may apply; to call a luncheon déjeuner, however, as in the appended extract, because it is to be eaten by Frenchmen, is hardly covered by this, though it is a praiseworthy attempt at what the critics call giving an atmosphere.
It was resolved that on the occasion of the visit of the French Fleet in August the Corporation should offer the officers an appropriate reception and invite them to a déjeuner at the Guildhall.—Times.
But speaking broadly, what a writer effects by using these ornaments is to make us imagine him telling us he is a wise fellow and one that hath everything handsome about him, including a gentlemanly acquaintance with the French language.3. Avoid literal translations.
It sometimes occurs to a writer that he would like to avail himself of a foreign word or phrase, whether to make a genuine point or to show that he has the gift of tongues, and yet not keep his less favored readers in the dark; he accordingly uses a literal translation instead of the actual words. It may fairly be doubted whether this is ever worth while; but there is all the difference in the world between the genuine and the ostentatious use.
I thought afterwards, but it was the spirit of the staircase, what a pity it was that I did not stand at the door with a hat, saying, 'Give an obol to Belisarius'.—Morley.
The French have had the wit to pack into the words esprit d'escalier the common experience that one's happiest retorts occur to one only when the chance of uttering them is gone, the door is closed, and one's feet are on the staircase. That is well worth introducing to an English audience; the only question is whether it is of any use to translate it without explanation. No one will know what spirit of the staircase is who is not already familiar with esprit d'escalier; and even he who is may not recognize it in disguise, seeing that esprit does not mean spirit (which suggests a goblin lurking in the hall clock), but wit.4. Be aware that it is dangerous to translate if you do not know for certain what the original means.
A special caution may be given about some words and phrases that either are shams, or are used in wrong senses. Of the first kind are nom de plume, morale. The French for the name that an author chooses to write under is nom de guerre. We, in the pride of our knowledge that guerre means war, have forgotten that there is such a thing as metaphor, assumed that another phrase is required for literary campaigning, thereupon ascertained the French for pen, and so evolved nom de plume. It is unfortunate; for we now have to choose between a blunder and a pedantry; but writers who know the facts are beginning to reconcile themselves to seeming pedantic for a time, and reviving nom de guerre.
The French for what we call morale, writing it in italics under the impression that it is French, is actually moral. The other is so familiar, however, that it is doubtful whether it would not be better to drop the italics, keep the -e, and tell the French that they can spell their word as they please, and we shall do the like with ours.
Cui bono? is a notorious trap for journalists. It is naturally surprising to any one who has not pushed his classics far to be told that the literal translation of it is not 'To what good (end)?' that is 'What is the good of it?' but 'Who benefited?'. The former rendering is not an absolutely impossible one on the principles of Latin grammar, which adds to the confusion. But if that were its real meaning it would be indeed astonishing that it should have become a famous phrase; the use of it instead of 'What is the good?' would be as silly and gratuitous as our above-mentioned the spirit of the staircase. Every scholar knows, however, that cui bono? does deserve to be used, in its true sense. It is a shrewd and pregnant phrase like cherchez la femme or esprit d'escalier. Cherchez la femme wraps up in itself a perhaps incorrect but still interesting theory of life—that whenever anything goes wrong there is a woman at the bottom of it; find her, and all will be explained. Cui bono? means, as we said, 'Who benefited?'. It is a Roman lawyer's maxim, who held that when you were at a loss to tell where the responsibility for a crime lay, your best chance was to inquire who had reaped the benefit of it. It has been worth while to devote a few lines to this phrase, because nothing could better show at once what is worth transplanting into English, and what dangers await any one who uses Latin or French merely because he has a taste for ornament. In the following quotation the meaning, though most obscurely expressed, is probably correct; and cui bono? stands for: 'Where can the story have come from? why, who will profit by a misunderstanding between Italy and France? Germany, of course; so doubtless Germany invented the story'. Cui bono? is quite capable of implying all that; but a merciful writer will give his readers a little more help:
5. Use foreign words that have some special appropriateness of association or allusion in the sentence they stand in.(Berlin) The news which awakens the most hopeful interest is the story of a concession to a Franco-Belgian syndicate in the harbor of Tripoli. There is a manifest desire that the statement should be confirmed and that it should have the effect of exciting the Italian people and alienating them from France. Cui bono?—Times.
It now only remains to add that there are French words good in some contexts, and not in others. Régime is good in the combination ancien régime, because that is the briefest way of alluding to the state of things in France before the Revolution. Further, its use in the first of the appended passages is appropriate enough, because there is an undoubted parallel between Russia now and France then. But in the second, administration ought to be the word:
Throwing a flood of light upon the proceedings of the existing régime in Russia.—Times.
He said that the goodwill and friendship of the Milner régime had resulted in the effective co-operation of the two countries.—Times.
Finally, even words that have not begun to be naturalized may be used exceptionally when a real point can be gained by it. To say chasseur instead of sportsman, gun, or other English word, is generally ridiculous. But our English notion of the French sportsman (right or wrong) is that he sports not because he likes sport, but because he likes the picturesque costumes it gives an excuse for. Consequently the word is quite appropriate in the following:
But the costume of the chasseurs—green velvet, very Robin-Hoody—had been most tasteful.—E. F. Benson.