In the September issue of the on-line version of Francophonie, I published an article entitled Des hussards noirs et des ballets bleus
. This article was, in fact, a summary of the research findings which led to the publication in 2010 of my book The Routledge Dictionary of Cultural References in Modern French
. The research itself was motivated by an acknowledgement of the fact that even fluent foreign speakers of French frequently have comprehension difficulties which have nothing to do with linguistic shortcomings as such but stem rather from inadequate knowledge of the cultural references of the language. For over 3 years I analysed 8 newspapers and magazines (Les Echos, Le Canard Enchaîné, Le Figaro, Marianne, L’Express, Le Point, Le Nouvel Observateur),
with a view to pinpointing such references. In the chapters Historical, Literary, Biblical and Classical references each reference is accompanied by a quote from a given magazine and an explanation of the context of the quote. For copyright reasons they have not been reproduced here. Throughout the article in Francophonie, I gave hundreds of examples of such references without explaining them. This was done on purpose to draw the reader’s attention to his or her own shortcomings in this area. Below, the reader will find the references, as they are explained in the Routledge dictionary. The asterisks refer to the level of frequency going from medium (*) to very high (***).
This was the name of a fort of Gaul situated on mount Auxois in what is today the département of the Côte d'Or (21). It was to this place that Vercingetorix retreated with his army before surrendering to Caesar after a two month siege in around 52.
Austerlitz (today in the Czech Republic) was one of the most brilliant battles fought by Napoleon. It took place on 2 December 1805. He defeated the combined Austro-Russian armies. Since this battle, we speak of the 'sun of Austerlitz', the sun of victory.
Bad Godesberg **
Bad Godesberg is a quiet suburb of Bonn and used to be the seat of the German federal government. It was the location of most of the foreign embassies and government offices. The Congress of Bad Godesberg, held in 1959, is a landmark in the history of European social democracy. It was during this congress that the German social democrats decided to break with all reference to Marxism and accepted the principles of the market economy.
ballets bleus/roses *
In France, in 1959, a scandal hit the headlines involving André Le Troquer, former President of the National Assembly, and various notables. They were tried and sentenced for organising erotic parties and engaging in sexual relations with under-age girls. The term ‘ballet’ was used since the young girls in question were dressed in ballet skirts. By extension, the term ‘ballets bleus’ was later used to describe the same kind of orgiastic parties involving adults and under-age boys.
Berezina. nf ***
Berezina (or Bérézina) is the name of a river in Byelorussia (Belarus) that the retreating French army of Napoleon I crossed in 1812 during the retreat from Moscow. It is used today as a synonym of rout, catastrophe and total failure, etc.
Préfet and General de Gaulle’s resistance coordinator of the Conseil National de Résistance in France, Jean Moulin (1899-1943), was arrested by the Gestapo on 21 June 1943 in Caluire in the suburbs of Lyons which is in the département of the Rhône (69). It is widely accepted that he had been betrayed and that the meeting in Caluire was in fact a trap. It has never been very clear who betrayed him. He was tortured in Paris and later died near Metz, on the train during his transfer to Berlin for further interrogation. Initially buried in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise, his presumed ashes were transferred to the Panthéon in 1964
Canossa is a small town in Italy to which the Holy Roman German Emperor, Henry IV, was obliged to go to ask Pope Gregory VII to lift his excommunication on 25-27 January 1077. The Pope kept him waiting for two days. 'Aller à Canossa' now means to capitulate in a humiliating manner in front of one's opponent.
Chouannerie. nf **
'Chouannerie' was the name given to the counter-revolutionary uprisings that took place in the west of France, and particularly in the Vendée, between 1793 and 1800.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-83) was a French politician who held several positions during the reign of Louis XIV including that of minister of finance (Intendant des Finances 1661) and Contrôleur Général (1665) His stewardship of the economic affairs of the country was associated with state intervention, centralisation, uniformity, rigour and a constant concern for reducing state expenses.
‘Pour vaincre les ennemies de la France que faut-il? De l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace'. The words of Georges Jacques Danton (1759-1794) a French politician, during his speech to the Convention on 2 September 1792 while France was on the point of being invaded by the coalition troops. ‘What is required to defeat the enemies of France? ‘Daring, more daring, ever more daring’. He was guillotined during the end phase of the Terror.
Coblence nmfpl *
Between the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and the year 1800, over 140,000 French nobles, bourgeois and priests went into exile. Many of them went to Coblentz in Rhenish Prussia. It is here that the émigrés princes formed a counter revolutionary army.
éminence grise. nf ***
Originally applied to Cardinal Richelieu's grey-clad private secretary Joseph François Leclerc du Trembay (1577-1638). As a Capuchin (a branch of the Franciscan order) Père Joseph exercised great power and influence over Richelieu without having any official title or post. Because of his power, he was addressed as éminence a term of address usually reserved for Cardinals. Today, it refers to someone who exercises discreet power and influence without holding an official position i.e. the power behind the throne.
Épinal. Images d' ***
Originally, they were coloured prints on popular themes such as religion, military uniforms, battles etc and intended for the illiterate population. The printer, Jean-Charles Pellerin (1756-1836) was the first to publish such prints at the time of the French revolution. He lived in the town of Epinal. Today, the expression refers to a naive and idealized vision of the world
Forges (maîtres des) nmpl **
With the industrial revolution emerged the great dynasties of the iron and steel works such as the Wendels and the Schneiders. These great industrialists created the new towns, houses for the workers, schools, churches etc. It was a paternalism based on work, family and religion. The connotation is one of reaction and conservatism.
Fouquier-Tinville, Antoine Quentin ***
Magistrate and French politician (1746-95) he was the public prosecutor of the revolutionary court. He became the symbol of ruthlessness and cruelty during the Terror period.
Fronde nf ***
The Fronde (1648-53) is the general term used to describe the troubles and violence that agitated France while Louis XIV was under age, during the regency of Mazarin. The term is now a synonym of revolt.
Victor Hugo, a ferocious opponent of Napoleon III and the Second Empire, went into exile to the Channel Islands. The short exile was on the island of Jersey (1852-55) and the long exile on the island of Guernsey (1855-70).
hussards noirs nmpl ***
It was under Jules Ferry, several times minister of education, (Instruction Publique) that education in France was made non-denominational (1880), free of charge (1881) and compulsory (1882). The non-denominational primary school teachers (maîtres) were seen as an army of the republic intended to foster tolerance, knowledge and rationalism among the pupils and to combat superstition and bigotry. Teachers were elevated to the rank of 'civil servant' of the Third Republic. Charles Peguy (1873-1914) wrote ' Nos jeunes maîtres étaient beaux comme des hussards noirs'. Black was the colour of the clothes of the maîtres graduating from the teacher training colleges founded by Guizot in 1833.
The revolutionary club of the Jacobins used to meet in the Dominican convent at the church of St Jacques in Paris (the Hebrew Jacobus giving us the English ‘James’ and the French ‘Jacques’ (cf jacobite rebellion).They were the extreme partisans of a centralised state.
jacquerie nf ***
The 'Jacquerie' or 'Great Jacquerie' was the name given to the peasants' revolt in north eastern France in 1358 during the 'One Hundred Years War'. There have been many such risings since, and the term has come to mean any form of revolt.
Loi du 29 juillet 1881. La **
This is the law which contains the articles related to freedom of the press that was inspired by article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man 26 August 1789. It is also the text that gives a legal framework for restrictions in this field i.e. cases of libel. The public posting of bills is limited by this law. The words Défense d'Afficher loi du 29 juillet 1801 can be seen, written in black letters two feet high, over a length of 10 metres, on otherwise pristine Parisian walls! Every newspaper, magazine and even a corporate publication includes the name of the Directeur de la Publication because he or she is ultimately liable in the event of legal action being taken against the newspaper or magazine in question.
Loi 1901. La **
This is the law governing the activities of non-profit making associations. Nothing was provided for in the texts of the French Revolution and the situation of associations was uncertain throughout the 19th century. This law gave a legal foundation upon which associations could be built. There are over 1 million such associations in France.
Loi 1905. La **
This is the law separating church and state. It effectively put an end to the Napoleonic Concordat and was the final chapter in the confrontation between Catholic, royalist France and the secular and anti-clerical republicans. Religious instruction in schools ceased. Article 2 of the law stipulates ‘La République ne reconnaît, ne salarie ni ne subventionne aucun culte’.
panache blanc. Le ***
Henri IV (1553-1610) King of France (1589-1610) and of Navarre (1572-1610). During the battle of Ivry against the Catholic forces in 1590, legend has it that he shouted to his men the famous phrase 'Ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc, vous le trouverez toujours au chemin de l'honneur et de la victoire'.
Glières. Plateau des nm ***
A mountainous area in the massif des Bornes in the département of the Haute Savoie (74). This plateau was chosen by the British Special Operations Executive as a parachuting zone for weapons and was the scene of a heroic stand by the maquisard against the Wehrmacht in March 1944. Two thirds of the maquisards defending the plateau were later captured after denunciation by local collaborators and died either under torture or during deportation.
Poitiers. (arrêter à) *
It was on 25 October 732 that Charles Martel defeated the Muslim forces between Tours and Poitiers and thus put an end to the Arab invasion of the land of the Francs. He was the de facto king of the Francs until the end of his life.
Pont d'Arcole. Le ***
Le Pont d'Arcole was the name of the battle fought between 15 and 17 November 1796 by the French against the Austrian forces in Italy. It was one of the most brilliant of Napoleon's victories. He led a heroic charge at the head of his grenadiers and defeated the Austrian forces.
Saint Just* (Louis Antoine de)
Saint Just (1767-94), a French politician, who was part of the triumvirat with Robespierre and Couthon. His name is associated with uncompromising morality. During the Revolution, addressing the Convention on 3 March 1794, he spoke of “ Le Bonheur, une idée neuve en Europe”.
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838), was the political camelion par excellence. He served under the Ancien Régime, was an ambassador during the Revolution, he was minister of foreign affairs under the Consulate and the First Empire and served as ambassador under the Restoration and the July Monarchy. To the question ‘what did you do during the Revolution’ he is said to have replied ‘I survived’
Trafalgar (un coup de) ***
Trafalgar, one of the greatest naval battles in which Nelson defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets on 21 October 1805. Nelson was killed during this battle. Today, un coup de Trafalgar refers to a disastrous, knock-out defeat.
Varennes (la fuite à) *
It was to Varennes in the Meuse, that Louis XVI fled in June 1791 while attempting to join the loyalist army in Metz. In spite of being disguised, he was recognised and arrested. The Constituent Assembly suspended his functions and he was thus discredited in the eyes of the people. He was executed in 1793
Villers-Cotterêt. (l'ordonnance de) **
This is a small town 80 km north east of Paris, located in the département of the Aisne (02) in the region of Picardy. Sometimes mis-named the ‘édit’, the ‘ordonnance’ of Villers-Cotterêt issued by Francois I in 1539 effectively made French the official language of law and the administration as opposed to Latin and the regional languages that had been used hitherto.
The battle of Waterloo fought on 18 June 1815, was the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte inflicted by the British under Wellington and the Prussians under Blücher. It is used today to refer to a crushing, terminal defeat.
Brave New World ***
The title of a book by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) that is frequently quoted in the French press either in English or in its French title Le Meilleur des Mondes. It is interesting to note that the English title comes from The Tempest by Shakespeare, while the French title comes from Voltaire's Candide.
‘Cachez ce sein' *** See below « Couvrez »
Chimène. (les yeux de) nmpl ***
To look at sb. with the eyes of Chimène is to look amourously at sb. with hidden passion. Chimène, one of the female characters in the play Le Cid, by Pierre Corneille (1606-84) is desperately in love with Rodrigue.
Cid. Le **
Le Cid was a play in verse written by Corneille and first produced in 1636/7. Many literary allusions come from this play.
Cigale et la Fourmis. La ***
La Cigale et la Fourmi is one of La Fontaine’s best known fables. It contrasts the prudential and industrious behaviour of the ant who spends summer gathering food to prepare for winter, and the frivolous grasshopper who spends her time singing but finds herself in difficulty when winter comes. She goes to see her neighbour the ant, to tell her that she is hungry, (Elle alla crier famine chez la fourmi sa voisine). The ant asks her how she has spent summer, to which the grasshopper replies ‘I spent summer singing’. The ant replies, ‘J’en suis fort aise. Eh bien dansez maintenant’.
cornélien (un dilemme) ***
The character ‘Rodrigue’, in the play Le Cid by Corneille, (see above) is faced with the choice between love and honour and finds himself on the horns of a dilemma i.e. the choice between avenging his father or of keeping Chimène.
Cosette is the name of the little girl in the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1802-85). Her mother sends her to board and lodge with the Thénardiers who exploit her mercilessly.
Couvrez ce sein que je ne saurais voir ***
This quotation from the play Tartuffe (1664) by Molière (1622-73) is perhaps the most frequently (mis) quoted and punned upon sentence in the French press. The play was forbidden by the court and it was only in 1669 that the ban was lifted. ‘Tartuffe’ is a hypocritical character and says these words in the scene in which he is confronted with a lady wearing a low-cut dress. This phrase is always quoted as ‘cachez’ but in the text of Molière it is ‘couvrez’.
crier famine chez la fourmi sa voisine. Elle alla ***
See above ‘Cigale’.
crier haro sur le baudet ***
This comes from Les Animaux malades de la peste and refers to the phenomenon of scapegoating. Today it means to make a hue and cry.
dansez maintenant! ***
. See above ‘Cigale’.
In the fable La Cigale et la Fourmi we can read ‘La cigale ayant chanté tout l'été se trouva fort dépourvue quand la bise fut venue’.
Foire aux Vanités. La *
Vanity Fair was a novel written by William Makepeace Thakeray (1811-63). The term comes from the allegorical book by John Bunyan (1628-88) published in 1678, The Pilgrim’s Progress, which tells of Christian’s journey from the ‘City of Destruction’ to the ‘Celestial City.
Heureux qui comme Ulysse…***.
Ulysses was the Latin name of the Greek hero Odysseus in the poem called the Odyssey that is ascribed to Homer and which relates the wanderings of the king of Ithaca. This is an echo of the title and first line of a poem by Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560) Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage.
Ils ne mouraient pas tous, mais tous étaient frappés ***
This is taken from the fable Les Animaux malades de la peste by La Fontaine.
jeter un pavé dans la mare **
This means to create a big surprise in an otherwise peaceful situation and is said to come from the fable by Lafontaine Les Grenouilles qui demandent un roi.
langage. lui tint à peu près ce *
This comes from the fable by La Fontaine Le Corbeau et le Renard.See below ‘Maître’.
Maître Corbeau ***
One of the most famous of the fables by La Fontaine, Le Corbeau et le Renard, begins: ‘Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché, tenait en son bec un fromage. Maître Renard par l'odeur alléché, lui tint à peu près ce langage’. The sly fox flatters the crow asking him to sing. The crow does so and lets the cheese fall from his beak.
meilleur des mondes. Le ***
The French title of the book by Aldous Huxley Brave New World.
Ô rage Ô désespoir ***
This must be as famous in French as ‘to be or not to be’ is in English. They are the opening words in the monologue of Don Diègue in the tragi-comedy Le Cid by Pierre Corneille. An old man, Don Diègue has just been insulted by a young man and is unable to fight. He vociferates ‘Ô rage! ô désespoir, ô vieillesse ennemie, n'ai-je donc tant vécu que pour cette infamie’.
par l'odeur alléché * See above Maître Corbeau
part du lion. La ***
Although it means the biggest part, it originally meant the whole. In La Fontaine’s fable of La Génisse, la Chèvre et la Brebis en société avec le Lion, the four animals, after having decided in advance to divide their possible ‘gain’ into 4 equal parts, succeed in catching a stag. The lion divides the prey into 4 equal parts but attributes each part to himself, invoking the ‘droit du plus fort’. This is often used today as ‘la loi du plus fort’ (might is right).
patte blanche. montrer ***
‘Montrer patte blanche' is to give sb. proof of one's identity in order to gain entry to a given place, or to prove that what one is saying is true. In the La Fontaine fable Le Loup, la Chèvre et le Chevreau, the mother goat leaves her young kid at home and tells her not to open the door until she hears the code. The wolf has overheard the code. In the mother's absence, he knocks at the door and gives the code but the suspicious kid is not taken in and says ‘montrez-moi patte blanche ou je n'ouvrirai point’.
pavé de l'ours. Le *
La Fontaine’s fable of L'Ours et l'Amateur des jardins tells the tale of a bear who sees a fly on his sleeping friend's nose and decides to kill the fly by striking it with a huge stone; in doing so, he kills his friend. The moral of the fable is 'it is better to have a wise enemy than a stupid friend'.
phénix des hôtes de ces bois. Le ***
In the fable by La Fontaine, The Crow and the Fox, we can read 'Que vous êtes joli, que vous me semblez beau, Sans mentir, si votre ramage se rapporte à votre plumage, Vous êtes le phénix des hôtes de ces bois'. This was part of the flattery of the fox towards the crow. See above ‘Maître’.
poule aux œufs d'or. La ***
This comes from another fable by La Fontaine. It is the fable of a greedy man who had a goose which laid golden eggs. He was so greedy that he killed the goose in order to get at the eggs. But there were none
quand la bise fut venue ***
This comes from the fable La Cigale et La Fourmi. 'La cigale, ayant chanté tout l'été, se trouva fort dépourvue quand la bise fut venue'. See above ‘Cigale’.
Eugène de Rastignac was one of the characters in the novel by Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) Le Père Goriot. He has no money but is bitterly ambitious about ‘arriving’ in high society, and to this end he uses women to gain entrance to the world he admires.
selon que vous serez puissant…***
These words come from the last two lines of the fable Les Animaux malades de la peste. In short, depending on whether you are poor or powerful, the judgement of the court will declare that you are either black or white.
sur un arbre perché *
. See above ‘Maître’.
Tartuf(f)e, tartuf(f)erie ***
'Tartuffe' is the character in the play of the same name by Molière and represents the arch hypocrite, and particularly in the field of religion. In this play, Molière attacks the excesses of the Compagnie du Saint Sacrement thus provoking the ire of the religious cliques. The king forbade public performances of the play and one priest even demanded death at the stake for Molière. It is to Tartuffe that we owe two of Molière's most famous quotations 'Couvrez ce sein que je ne saurais voir' and 'Ah pour être dévôt, je n'en suis pas moins homme'.
In the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, published in 1862, the Thénardiers are the money grabbing couple who run the inn 'The Sargeant of Waterloo' and who exploit Cosette. NB Even when used in the plural, family names, in French, are invariable e.g. 'the Smiths' in English gives 'Les Smith' in French. See above ‘Cosette’.
tirer les marrons du feu ***
In the fable by La Fontaine, Le Singe et la Chat, the cat takes the chestnuts from the fire, burning himself in the process, whereas the monkey eats the chestnuts that the cat has taken out of the fire, without burning himself. It implies that one takes advantage of a situation at the expense of one's associates.
baiser de Judas (le baiser qui tue) *
The kiss of Judas, the kiss of death. In order that the Roman soldiers should know whom to arrest in the garden of Gethsemene, Judas told them that he would kiss the man they were to arrest. To betray with a kiss has since come to mean to betray with an affectionate gesture. ‘Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign saying, «Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he: take him ». And straight away he came to Jesus and said, « Hail, Rabbi »; and kissed him’. Or le traître leur avait donné ce signe : ‘Celui à qui je donnerai un baiser, c’est lui ; arrêtez-le. Et aussitôt il s’approcha de Jésus en disant : ‘Salut, Rabbi’!, et il lui donna un baiser. See Matthew 26, 48-49.
boisseau. mettre sous le *
Un boisseau is a measure of grain corresponding to the English 'bushel'. ‘No man, when he hath lighted a lamp, putteth it in a cellar, neither under the bushel, but on the stand, that they which enter in may see the light’. Personne, après avoir allumé une lampe, ne la met en quelque endroit caché ou sous le boisseau, mais bien sur le lampadaire, pour que ceux qui pénètrent voient la clarté. See the Gospel of St Luke 11 33. Today, ‘mettre sous le boisseau' can mean ‘to keep something secret’ or ‘to sweep under the carpet’.
bouc émissaire nm ***
scapegoat. (caper emissarius). Every year, on the Day of Atonement, (Le Jour du Grand Pardon i.e. Yom Kippour), the high priest of the ancient Jews performed the same ceremony: ‘And Aron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a man that is in readiness into the wilderness. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a solitary land: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness’. Aaron lui posera les deux mains sur la tête et confessera à sa charge toutes les fautes des Israélites, toutes leurs transgressions et tous leurs péchés. Après en avoir ainsi chargé la tête du bouc, il l’enverra au désert sous la conduite d’un homme qui se tiendra prêt, et le bouc emportera sur lui toutes leurs fautes en un lieu aride. See Leviticus 16. 21-22. Today, it refers to any innocent individual who has to take responsibility for the wrongdoings of the group. The theme of the scapegoat is often evoked in French literature; one of the most famous cases being cited by Lafontaine; see Chapter 5 ‘crier haro sur le baudet’. It can also be found in the children’s song Le Petit Navire where the scapegoat is the ship’s boy (le mousse).
bouchée de pain nf **
pro buccella panis. Literally, ‘a piece of bread’. This expression means ‘for a song, for next to nothing’. In the biblical text, the partiality of judges is being criticized. ‘To have respect of persons is not good: neither that a man should transgress for a piece of bread’. C’est mal de faire acception de personnes, mais pour une bouchée de pain, l’homme commet un forfait. See Proverbs 28, 21
chemin étroit nm **
‘Enter ye by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many be they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate and straightened the way that leadeth unto life, and few be they that find it’. Entrez par la porte étroite. Large, en effet, et spacieux est le chemin qui mène à la perdition, et il en est beaucoup qui s’y engagent; mais étroite est la porte et resserré le chemin qui mène à la Vie et il en est peu qui le trouvent. See Matthew 7, 13-14.
crier sur les toits ***
praedicate super tecta. This means to proclaim the news, far and wide. It is how Jesus defined the task of the disciples. 'What I tell you in the darkness, speak ye in the light: and what ye hear in the ear, proclaim upon the housetops'. Ce que je vous dis dans les ténèbres, dites-le en plein jour; ce qui vous est dit à l'oreille, prêcher le sur les toits. See Matthew 10, 27.
Damas (le chemin de) ***
‘The road to Damascus’. This expression evokes a spiritual journey during which the traveller undergoes a radical change in attitude or belief. It refers to the journey undertaken by Saul, the persecutor of the early Christians. On his way to Damascus, a bright light appeared and Jesus asked Saul why he was persecuting those who believed in him. Saul was blinded (his sight was later restored). After this incident, he changed his Hebrew name 'Saul' into the Roman form 'Paul'. ‘And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: And he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me”’? Il faisait route et approchait Damas, quand soudain une lumière venue du ciel l’enveloppa de sa clarté. Tombant à terre, il entendit une voix qui lui disait : «Saoul, Saoul, pourquoi me persécutes-tu»’. See The Acts of the Apostles 9, 3-4.
David et Goliath ***
The story of David and Goliath is the story of the victory of the small against the strong. Goliath, the Philistine, in spite of his greater physical strength, was overcome by David, the shepherd boy, his sling and his faith in God. ‘And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell upon his face to the earth’. Il mit la main dans son sac, prit une pierre, la lança avec la fronde et atteignit le Philistin au front. See Samuel (1) 17 48-51.
Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss. See Matthew 26, 48. The reader's attention must be drawn to the fact that the verb 'baiser' in modern French is not ‘to kiss’ but is equivalent to the English ‘to lay’ or ‘to screw’ and can be used in the meaning of ‘to have sb’ i.e. ‘to take them in’. It can thus be said that Judas ‘baisa' Jesus in every sense of the word ! See above ‘baiser’.
légion adj ***
This implies the plurality hidden behind what seems to be singular. When Jesus asked a man possessed by the devil what his name was, the man replied 'My name is Legion for we are many'. Légion est mon nom...car nous sommes plusieurs. See Mark 5, 9. See also Luke 8,30.
lentilles (un plat de) nfpl ***
‘A mess of pottage’. Esau (Esaü) was starving, and sold his birthright to Jacob for a mess of potage. ‘And Esau said to Jacob « Feed me, I pray thee with that same red pottage; for I am faint »…..and Jacob said « Sell me this day thy birthright »…and he sware unto him and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Esaü dit à Jacob : Laisse-moi avaler ce roux, ce roux là ; je suis épuisé’….Jacob dit : ‘Vends-moi d’abord ton droit d’aînesse’….il prêta serment et vendit son droit d’aînesse à Jacob. Genesis 25, 30-34 NB ‘roux’ is the translation of ‘mess of potage’ in the Jerusalem Bible, the lentils being red.
pierre d'achoppement nf **
‘A stumbling block’. It was the stone of the Temple in Jerusalem that the unbeliever tripped over. A 'stone of stumbling' is mentioned in Isaiah 8 14-15, and we can find 'Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art a stumbling block unto me' Arrière de moi, Satan! tu m'es en scandale. See Matthew 16, 23. See also Romans 9, 32-33.
prêcher dans le désert ***
vox clamans in deserto. ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness’. C'est ici la voix de celui qui crie dans le désert. See Matthew 3, 3, Mark 1, 3 Luke 3, 4 John 1, 23. Compare the traditional 'a voice crying in the wilderness', with Isaiah 'A voice cries: in the wilderness prepare the way for Yahve'.
tohu-bohu nm ***
Hubbub or noisy confusion. From the Hebrew term, tôhû-wâbôhû, which describes the original chaos before the creation of the world. 'And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep'. Or la terre était vide et vague, les ténèbres couvraient l’abîme.
asphodèles (les champs d’) nmpl *
An asphodel is a member of the lily family. According to Greek mythology, good people, after death, go to the Elysian Fields, bad people go to Tartarus, and those people who have been neither particularly good nor particularly bad, walk in the fields of asphodel, a kind of purgatory.
Augias (les écuries d') nfpl ***
The Augean stables. The fifth of the Twelve Labours of Hercules.The stables of the biggest cattle owner in Greece had not been cleaned for many years. Hercules’ task was to clean the stables within a day. He succeeded in cleaning out the stables by diverting the rivers Alpheus and Peneus. Today, it implies cleaning up a corrupt situation
calendes (kalendae) nfpl ***
The word ‘calendes’ corresponded to the first day of each month in the Roman calendar. The word calendar is derived from the word calendarium which designated a book of accounts. Accounts were traditionally settled on the first of the month. The Greeks did not have calendes and consequently 'renvoyer aux calendes grecques' means to put off indefinitely.
pomme de discorde nf ***
The bone of contention, the subject of a dispute. In Greek mythology, the goddess 'Discord' was not invited to the wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis. To take revenge for this affront, she threw a golden apple among the wedding guests; Juno (Hera), Minerva (Athena) and Venus (Aphrodite) fought over the apple. Inscribed on the apple were the words ‘for the fairest’. Zeus asked Paris to choose the fairest among them. He chose Venus, who promised him the love of Helen of Troy. He later kidnapped Helen, thus triggering the Trojan War.
Popular cultural references
Amoureux des bancs publics **
‘Lovers on a public bench’. The words come from a song written and sung in 1977 by Georges Brassens (1921-81) which juxtaposes the spontaneity of young lovers kissing in public with the reprobation of the priggish, bourgeois passers-by.
Arroseur arosé. L’ **
The meaning of this expression resembles the English ‘hoist with one's own petard’. It is the title of the second of two films by Louis Lumière (1864-1948) made in 1895 and constituting the first slapstick comedy in the history of French cinema. Lasting 49 seconds, it features a gardener watering the garden. A little rascal puts his foot on the hose and the water stops flowing. The gardener takes a close look at the nozzle of the hose; it is then that the rascal takes his foot off the hose and the gardener is drenched and runs after the mischievous boy.
Asnières, Le 22 à **
Famous words from one of the most well-known sketches by the comic Fernand Raynaud (1926-73). It is a reference to the time when the French telecommunications network was a national disgrace. In the sketch, ‘le 22 à Asnières’ is a number that is impossible to reach. Asnières is on the north-west outskirts of Paris in the département of the Hauts de Seine (92). Before 1974, comics used to quip that ‘half of the French population was waiting for a telephone to be installed, and the other half were waiting for the dialling tone’.
This is the name of a comic strip character who appeared in a young girl's magazine in 1905. She represents the simple-minded, ill-dressed, provincial maid. See Chapter 9 ‘Royal’.
Bidochon. Les *
Les Bidochons are comic strip characters representing a typical working class couple and the everyday problems that they face in the consumer society. They appeared for the first time in 1977 in the magazine ‘Fluide Glacial’ created by Christian Binet. NB ‘classe moyenne’ in French is NOT ‘middle class’.
Bizarre!, vous avez dit bizarre? **
‘Moi, j'ai dit bizarre? Comme c'est bizarre! (I said ‘bizarre’, did I? How bizarre!) . These are the famous words spoken by Louis Jouvet in the play by Marcel Carné Drole de Drame (1937). Jouvet (1887-1951) was one of the greatest actors of his time, a director and teacher of dramatic art. This line has since become a cult phrase.
Boire ou conduire, il faut choisir. ***
‘One must choose between drinking and driving’. A publicity slogan of le Comité de la Sécurité Routière to combat drink driving.
Carrefour, le pays où la vie est moins chère *
The slogan of the Carrefour supermarket chain is ‘Carrefour, the country where the cost of living is lower’. See below ‘positive’.
Chassons le gaspi de chez nous. *
‘Let's drive out wastage’. This was the slogan of a government publicity campaign to make energy savings in the wake of the second oil crisis in the mid seventies.
comme on nous parle…**
‘The way they speak to us’, are words from one of the biggest hits by Alain Souchon, Foule Sentimentale. The song ridicules the consumer society and criticises the ad men for the way in which they address the general public. It was released in 1993.
contrat de confiance. Le *
The advertising slogan of the DARTY electrical and household appliances chain.
Demain j'enlève le bas **
In August 1981, advertising posters could be seen all over Paris showing the picture of a beautiful girl in a bikini. The slogan was ‘On 2 September, I shall take off the top’. Indeed, a few days later, the same beautiful girl was shown topless, this time the slogan being ‘On 4 September, I shall take off the bottom’. A few days later, indeed the girl had taken off the lower part of her bikini but was shown photographed from the back only. This was in fact an impressive demonstration of the power of advertising to get people's attention. It is an example par excellence of the ‘teasing’ principle. The campaign was launched by the advertising company Avenir, ‘the company that always keeps its promises’.
Elle est pas belle la vie! (sic) **
‘Isn't life beautiful? This is an advertising slogan of the pork meat products company ‘Fleury Michon’. Grammatically speaking, it should have been ‘elle n'est pas belle la vie?’ or ‘n’est-t-elle pas bien la vie?’
enfants du paradis. Les *
A cult film produced in wartime, by Marcel Carné between 1943 and 1945. The dialogues were written by Jacques Prévert. This film is considered, by some, to be the best French film ever made. One of the stars of the film, Arletty was arrested at the end of the war and accused of ‘collaboration with the enemy’ because of her relationship with a German officer (this was known as ‘horizontal collaboration’). In the dock, she defended herself by saying to the judge ‘my heart is French, but my ass is international’.
Et moi et moi et moi ***
These are the words and title of a hit song recorded by ‘yé-yé’ star Jacques Dutronc in 1967. The first line begins ‘Sept cent millions de chinois, et moi et moi et moi’. It is very often punned upon with the word ‘émoi’ (emotion, excitement, turmoil etc).
été meurtrier. L' *
This is the title of a Jean Becker film (1983) starring Isabelle Adjani and Alain Souchon. Frequently used in the press after the announcement of traffic deaths at the end of the summer vacation or any other violent events in July and August.
furet du bois joli. Le *
This comes from a children’s song Il court, il court le furet, which tells the story of a ferret that is rather like the Loch Ness Monster in that some people say they have seen it but nobody can prove its existence. In debates about unemployment, the old argument of 500,000 jobs that have not been filled is regularly brought out for airing but so far nobody knows where they are nor who was in charge of drawing up the related statistics. Some of the words of the song ‘Il est passé par ici…il repassera par là’ were used in an advertising campaign for a small parcel delivery service in the eighties.
Jeu de main, jeu de vilain ! **
When children play roughly together, this is the typical warning made by an adult, equivalent to the English, ‘this is going to end in tears’.
Lucky Luke ***
Lucky Luke is a comic strip and cartoon character created in 1946 by the Belgian, Maurice de Bévère (1923-2001), whose pen name was ‘Morris’. Lucky Luke is a ‘poor lonesome cowboy’ accompanied by his dog Rantamplan and his faithful steed Jolly Jumper. His sworn enemies are the Dalton brothers. He has given the French language an immortal expression ‘il tire plus vite que son ombre’ ‘He is so quick on the draw that he beats his own shadow’, generally translated by ‘the fastest draw in the West’. Each story ends with Lucky Luke riding off into the sunset. To conform to anti-smoking legislation in France, the cigarette hanging from his lips has been replaced by a stalk of grass.
Même pas mal! ***
‘It didn't even hurt’. The typical schoolboy reply to an agressor in the playground after receiving a punch.
Nous n'irons plus au bois…***
This is the title and first line of a children's song. The original text reads ‘nous n'irons plus au bois, les lauriers sont coupés, la belle que voilà ira les ramasser. Entrez dans la danse, voyez comme on danse, sautez, dansez, embrassez qui vous voudrez’. It is unlikely that the people who sing this song are aware of its origin. This text refers to the sexual practices prevalent at the court of Versailles of Louis XIV. The thousands of workers employed to build the château brought in their wake, hordes of prostitutes. It was said that the forest of Versailles was like an open-air brothel with as many whores as there were trees. Their activity was restricted by royal order but they simply took to exercising their trade in special houses. Braids of laurel were a common feature on the walls of such buildings in the grounds of Versailles. Louis XIV, who was alarmed at the spread of venereal disease, had these establishments closed, hence the words of the song!
Parce que tu le vaux bien ***
‘Because you're worth it’. This is the advertising slogan of l’Oréal, the cosmetic products company.
petits trous, des petits trous. Des **
Words from the song by Serge Gainsbourg Le Poinçonneur des Lilas which underlines the
soul-destroying job of the ticket inspector punching holes into metro tickets. See above ‘je t’aime’. See below ‘sous le soleil’ and ‘poinçonneur’.
Pieds Nickelés, les ***
Originally the name of the three characters (Croquignol, Filochard and Ribouldingue) in a comic strip series created by Louis Forton and first published in 1908. They are small-time swindlers and lazy good-for-nothings who are not very intelligent.
plombier. C'est le **
This is the punch line of one of the most famous sketches of the French comic Fernand Raynaud (1926-73) A plumber comes to visit a client. He knocks at the door but the client is absent. However, from within, the client’s parrot asks ‘who is it? to which the plumber replies ‘it’s the plumber’. Everytime the plumber says ‘it’s the plumber’, the parrot repeats the question ‘who is it? Finally, the plumber has a heart attack and collapses on the staircase. Two elderly ladies come down the stairs and see the dead body. One asks the other ‘who is it?’ The parrot in the flat cries out ‘it’s the plumber’. The term ‘plombier’ has not been a neutral term since the French secret service (DST) tried to bug the premises of Le Canard Enchaîné in 1973. This constituted a Watergate-type scandal, and is often referred to in the press. ‘Un plombier’ now refers to a secret agent who bugs a room. See also ‘Asnières’, ‘pourquoi tu tousses, Tonton?, and ‘va là bas voir si j’y suis’.
poinçonneur des Lilas. Le *
This is the title of a famous song by Serge Gainsbourg about the idiotic job of a metro ticket inspector punching holes into the then cardboard metro tickets at the metro station ‘Lilas’, in the north east of Paris. See above ‘petits trous’
Professeur Tournesol **
He is one of the main characters in Hergé's Adventures of Tintin. He is the absent minded professor.
sparadrap de capitaine Haddock ***
A reference to the character in the comic strip album by Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin. Sparadrap is an adhesive medical dressing, for small cuts and abrasions that is difficult to get rid of because it sticks to the fingers. This is a reference to an episode in l'Affaire Tournesol in which Haddock becomes more and more short-tempered given the impossible task of getting rid of the sticky plaster. Today, it refers to any embarassing affair that will just not go away.
t' as de beaux yeaux, tu sais ***
Immortal words from the film by Marcel Carné in 1938 Quai des Brumes, based on a novel by Pierre Mac Orlan Le Quai des Brumes published in 1927. This phrase remains one of the most famous lines in the history of French cinema spoken by Jean Gabin to Michèle Morgan.
The name of the comic strip character created by Hergé in 1929 in the series entitled The Adventures of Tintin and Milou. Other characters include Captain Haddock, Professor Tournesol and the detective duo Dupont and Dupond. NB ‘tintin’ is also an exclamatory term meaning ‘nothing doing’ or ‘no way’. ‘Faire tintin’ means ‘to go without’.
Tontons Flingeurs. Les ***
This is the title of another cult film, by George Lautner made in 1963 and starring Bernard Blier (1916-89), Lino Ventura (1919-87) and Francis Blanche (1921-74). This film contains many of the most famous lines in French cinema history. ‘Tonton’ is the child's word for uncle (nunky) and a ‘flingueur’ is ‘a contract killer’ or ‘hit man’. In this film, two rival gangs do their best to eliminate each other. The verb ‘flinguer’ is frequently used in French politics in the figurative sense of the term i.e. ‘to shoot sb. down in flames’. See above ‘cave’.
Touchez pas au grisbi ***
Don't touch the loot. A film by Jacques Becker starring Jean Gabin and Lino Ventura that came out in 1972. ‘Grisbi’ is the slang term for money, i.e. loot, dosh, dough. See above ‘cave’ and ‘tontons’.
The title of a satirical film (1972) by the late Jean Yanne (1933-2003). It is used ironically to describe political correctness and the hypocrisy of the media.
Tout va très bien madame La Marquise ***
‘Everything is quite alright, Madame La Marquise’. One of the greatest successes of Ray Ventura (1908-79), song writer and band leader. In this song, the Marquise is away on holiday and phones home to the château for news. Her butler begins by saying that everything is OK and then says ‘apart from one tiny thing’...and then follows an account of the series of catastrophes that has befallen the château during her absence. When sb. is optimistic in a critical situation, this sentence is used ironically. In 2008, the then minister of finance, Christine Lagarde, said that France would only be marginally affected by the subprime disaster. She has since been nicknamed Mme La Marquise de Bercy.
verre, ça va, deux verres, bonjour les dégats. Un ***
‘One glass is OK, two glasses means trouble’ The 1984 slogan of a publicity campaign launched by le Comité français d’éducation pour la santé (1972-2002) to fight drink driving.
Coupole. La (académie) *
l'Institut de France. See Chapter 10 La Coupole.
Coupole. La **
One of the most famous of the Parisian brasseries located in the fourteenth arrondissement in the Montparnasse quarter. It was built in 1927 and its name is intimately associated with such writers as Hemingway, Kessel, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre. It is also the metonymical name of the Académie Française. See above Académie Française and also Chapter 12. ‘Coupole’.
Elysée. L’ ***
The French President and/or his staff.
énarques de la rue Cambon. Les ***
Members of La Cour des Comptes. See Chapter 10 ‘Cour des Comptes’.
Hotel de Lassay. L’ nm ***
The metonymical name of the President (speaker) of the National Assembly. It is an eighteenth century house, located in the seventh arrondissement of Paris.
Luxembourg. Le Palais du ***
The French Senate. See Chapter 10
magistrats de la rue Cambon. Les nmpl **
Members of the Cour des Comptes.
Palais Bourbon. Le
The lower house of the French Parliament i.e. the National Assembly. See Chapter 10.
Palais Royal. Le ***
This can refer either to the Conseil d'Etat or to the Conseil Constitutionnel.
Petit Luxembourg. Le *
The home of the President of the Senate. The building is contiguous with the Palais du Luxembourg.
Quai Conti. Le *
The Socialist Party. Located in the seventh arrondissement of Paris, this is the headquarters of the PS.
The metonymical name for the Ecole Normale Supérieure. See Chapter 10.
This term was coined by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91), the French poet. It came back into the limelight on 21 September 2000. During a television interview, the then President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, used the term to describe the posthumous accusations of Jean Claude Méry, (the RPR fund manager) concerning the illegal funding of the president's party, the RPR (it has since been renamed the UMP) The term itself means a preposterous, cock and bull story.
Après moi le déluge **
Attributed to Louis XV (1710-74) but also in the form ‘après nous, le déluge’ attributed to Madame de Pompadour (1721-64). During the Seven Years War, the army of Louis XV suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Prussian army led by Frederic II at the battle of Rossbach on 5 November 1757. While he was posing for the artist, Quentin de La Tour, Louis had a sad expression on his face; to comfort him, his favourite of the moment, Madame de Pompadour, said ‘Il ne faut point s’affliger: vous tomberiez malade. Après nous, le déluge’. ‘You must not grieve at all, otherwise you will make yourself ill. After us, the deluge’. See also Chapter 8 ‘déluge’.
audace. encore de l’ nf **
‘Pour vaincre les ennemies de la France que faut-il? De l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace'. The words of Georges Jacques Danton (1759-1794) a French politician, during his speech to the Convention on 2 September 1792 while France was on the point of being invaded by the coalition troops. ‘What is required to defeat the enemies of France? ‘Daring, more daring, ever more daring’. He was guillotined during the end phase of the Terror.
Aux grands hommes…***
The first words of the inscription on the pediment of Le Panthéon ‘Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante’. ‘To great men, the homeland is grateful’.
bordel peuplé de nains. Un *
‘A brothel populated with dwarves’. The words of Victor Hugo referring to the Elysée after the coup d’état of Louis Napoléon in 1851.
cirer ! La Bourse, j’en ai rien à *
‘The Stock Exchange, I couldn't give a tinker's cuss’. These ungrammatical and vulgar words were spoken by Edith Cresson, the first woman prime minister of the Republic (socialist) shortly after her appointment in May 1991. The infinitive of the verb is ‘n’en avoir rien à cirer’.
comité Théodule. Un *
The expression ‘comité Théodule’ is a pure invention of de Gaulle who said ‘L'essentiel pour moi, ce n'est pas ce que peuvent penser le comité Gustave, le comité Théodule ou le comité Hippolyte, c'est ce que veut le pays’. ‘What is essential for me is not what the Theodule committee may think… but what the country wants’.
commission. Quand je veux enterrer un problème, je nomme une **
‘When I want to bury a problem, I set up a commission’. Words of Clémenceau (1841-1929) head of the French government (1917-19).
Félix Faure qui périt en heureuse posture **
On 16 February 1899, Félix Faure, President of the III Republic, telephoned his mistress and asked her to come to the Elysée. Legend has it that he died after his sexual exertions. A priest was called for and Faure's mistress was shown out by the back door. On arriving in the room, the priest asked the valet ‘Le Président a-t-il toujours sa connaissance’ (is the president still conscious?) The valet, having understood ‘is his acquaintance still with him’, replied, ‘ah non, Mon Père, on l'a fait sortir par derrière’, ‘no, Father, we showed her out via the service exit.
François Guizot (1787-1874) was a French politician who occupied several ministerial posts and was prime minister from 1847-1848. Some historians suggest that this quote was aimed at people who were not rich enough to vote, others that his internal policy was designed to enrich the bourgoisie. These words were said before the Chambre des Députés on 1 March 1843. Quoted out of context, these words give the impression that Guizot was a wheeler-dealer. In fact, his words were an invitation to the opposition to use their new political rights to reinforce the institutions and enhance the material and moral conditions of France.
Entre ici! **
With these words, Andre Malraux (1901-76), the then minister of culture, began his tribute to Jean Moulin (the hero of the French resistance) during the transfer of the latter's ashes to the Panthéon on 19 December 1964. See Chapter 12 ‘Caluire’.
insu de mon plein gré. À l' ***
‘unbeknown to my full consent’. In the wake of the Festina dope scandal involving cyclists of the Tour de France in 1998, Richard Virenque, after denying taking drugs, admitted that he had been given drugs without his knowing about it. This barbaric French phrase was popularised by the caricature of Virenque in the satirical ‘Guignols de l'Info’, a TV programme on Canal+, the equivalent of the British TV programme ‘Spitting Image’.
Omar m'a tuer (sic) ***
‘Omar killed me’. Omar Raddad was the name of the gardener who worked for the rich widow, Ghislaine Marchal, who was found dead in the boiler room of her house in Mougins (Alpes Maritimes 06), in 1991. The police found the inscription, in Madame Marchal's own blood on one of the walls of the boiler room.’Omar m'a tuer’. The grammatical mistake (it should have read 'Omar m'a tué) is unlikely to have been made by the well educated Madame Marchal. In 1996, Omar was granted a presidential pardon. He is now fighting for a retrial.
pschitt! Ce n'est pas qu'elles se dégonflent, c'est qu'elles font ***
‘It's not that they just go pear-shaped, it's that they disappear into thin air’. The words of President Jacques Chirac during a television interview on 14 July 2001, on being questioned about the illegal funding of his political party.
Que d'eau, que d'eau! ***
‘So much water, so much water’. These words were said by Mac-Mahon, President of the Republic on June 26 1875 on visting the city of Toulouse that had been severely damaged by floods.
Qui connaît M. Besson? ***
The words of Ségolène Royal on learning of the defection of the socialist, Eric Besson, to join the Sarkozy camp just before the presidential elections in 2007.
‘The 21st century will be spiritual, or there will be no 21st century’. ** The words were attributed to André Malraux (1901-76) General de Gaulle's minister of culture.
tirez les premiers, Messieurs les Anglais ***
These words were said at the battle of Fontenoy in 1745, during the war of the Austrian Succession, by a French officer, le Comte d'Anterroche(s) in answer to the English officer’s request that the French should begin hostilities. Today, it is frequently used to express the fact that the English have beaten the French to it! e.g. ‘Messieurs les Anglais ont encore tiré les premiers’.
tous les matins en me rasant. J’y pense ***
‘I think about it (becoming president) every morning while shaving’. Words of Nicolas Sarkozy when asked, some years ago, whether he ever thought about becoming President of the Republic.
Tout va pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes ***
See above Brave Nerw World
Vaste programme! ***
Général de Gaulle, responding to a heckler who cried out ‘Mort aux cons’ (‘death to the assholes’), quipped ‘Vaste programme’.
café de Flore. Le **
This is the name of a famous café in the Saint Germain district of Paris, in the sixth arrondissement of Paris. It is the legendary name associated with the postwar intellectuals and artists in general, and of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre in particular. Other famous names associated with this café, established under the III Republic (1870-1940), are Camus and Prévert.
Closerie des Lilas. La ***
Bar, brasserie and restaurant located at 171 bld Montparnasse in the sixth arrondissement of Paris. Since 1847 it has been the haunt of artists and intellectuals. Names closely associated with this renowned place include Zola, Verlaine, Apollinaire, Baudelaire and Mallarmé, Joyce and Hemingway. Today, it is a trendy venue for the rich and famous.
Conseil d'Etat. Le ***
As its name suggests, one of the two main roles of the Conseil d'Etat is to advise the government. It is always consulted for its opinion on bills before they are submitted to the Council of Ministers. The second role is judicial. Just as the Cour de Cassation is the highest jurisdiction in the land, (the supreme court of appeal) so the Conseil d'Etat is the highest administrative jurisdiction in the land (i.e. for cases involving the government, administration and public authorities). It can act as a court of appeal in the case of disputed elections, and as a court of ‘cassation’ in other 'administrative' cases. The origins of the Conseil d'Etat go back to the thirteenth century. The old names dating from the ancien régime such as Conseiller d'Etat and Maître des Requêtes are still used. In its present form, le Conseil d'Etat dates from the Consulat 1799. There are approximately 350 members of the Conseil d'Etat most of whom have been recruited from l'ENA. Indeed, on leaving l’ENA, the very best students are allowed to choose the corps to which they wish to be sent. They invariably choose to go to either to l’Inspection Générale des Finances or le Conseil d'Etat or to la Cour des Comptes. The metonymical name for the Conseil d'Etat is the Palais Royal in which it has been headquartered since 1874 in the first arrondissement of Paris. Some people become members by way of a discretionary decision called tour extérieur which is simply the will of the prince often exercised to reward faithful followers. See below l’ENA.
magistrates. It is chaired by the President of the Republic and vice chaired by the minister of justice (Le Garde des Sceaux). It is asked for its opinion whenever senior appointments in the legal system are made but its opinion may or may not be followed. The separation of powers is impossible to achieve in this situation.
Coupole. La **
One of the most famous of the Parisian brasseries located in the fourteenth arrondissement in the Montparnasse quarter. It was built in 1927 and its name is intimately associated with such writers as Hemingway, Kessel, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre. It is also the metonymical name of the Académie Française.
Cour des Comptes. La **
This is the name of the public accounting office, the origins of which can be traced back to the curia regis of the Middle Ages. Today its role is to monitor the receipts and expenditures of government entities and to ensure that these have been carried out in conformity with public accounting rules. The CDC is the entity which supervises the management of public funds; this includes the accounts of the State, the department of social security, publicly owned companies, or even private companies enjoying state support. There are 22 metropolitan regional chambers of the court which verify the accounts of local authorities.The members of the CDC are magistrates recruited principally from l'ENA. The CDC publishes an annual report and can express reservations about the 'fairness and truth' of the accounts of the state. The implementation of its recommendations, however, is not mandatory. The metonymical name for the Cour des Comptes is rue Cambon, the name of the street in which it is located in the first arrondissement of Paris.
department nm ***
Under the ancien régime, France was divided into regions known as généralités. These were replaced by the départements under a decree issued by the National Constituent Assembly in 1790. The département, was supposed to be small enough to allow anyone on the periphery to reach the chef-lieu (i.e. the most important town, generally located in the geographical centre, and the heart of the local administrative system) within 24 hours, on horseback. They frequently take their name from the names of rivers e.g. le Cher, l'Essonne, l'Ardèche etc. They were supposed to break down the power blocks of the ancien régime and to contribute to a more balanced distribution of power. The government's representative in the département is the Préfet. Each département has a number related to the position of the first letter of its name in the alphabet. Thus, Ain (01), Finisterre (29), Nord (59). This number corresponds both to the postal code and a car’s registration plates. The last two digits on a number plate e.g. 91, indicate that the car was registered in the département of the Essonne. This is changing at the moment as the new numbering plan is being introduced. Sentimental drivers will still be able to put the number of their département on their registration plates but this is no longer an integral part of the registration number of the car in question; this may or may not be the number of the département in which the vehicle is registered.
ENA. L’ ***
The Ecole Nationale d'Administration one of the most prestigious of the French grandes écoles. It was created in 1945 with a view to democratising acces to the higher echelons of the French civil service. Each 'year' or promotion bears a name chosen by the students themselves. Under the V Republic, l’ENA has produced 2 presidents (Valérie Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac), several prime ministers, (Laurent Fabius, Edouard Balladur, Michel Rocard, Alain Juppé, Dominique de Villepin, Lionel Jospin), and a host of various ministers and company chairmen. It has also produced an alarming number of people who have been sentenced by the courts of the republic for various forms of corruption, or who have been involved in corporate disasters. Originally located in the rue des Saints Pères in Paris, l’ENA has relocated to Strasbourg as part of a decentralisation programme. The cream of the cream i.e. the most brilliant students (la botte) can choose the most prestigious ‘corps’ for their career i.e. l’Inspection Générale des Finances, le Conseil d'Etat or la Cour des Comptes…in that order!
Grandes Ecoles. Les ***
France has the particularity of having universities (which do not have the same prestige as in England, the States or Germany) and the grandes écoles. The grandes écoles are:
‘engineers' schools, (Polytechnique, Mines, Ponts et Chaussées)
business schools (HEC, Essec, Central, ESCP, Insead)
schools specialised in the training of university teachers and researchers i.e. Ecole Normale Supérieure,
schools for training senior civil servants, Sciences Po and l'ENA.
After the school-leaving examination (le bac’) students prepare the highly competitive entrance examinations over two years. Three to four years are generally spent at the grande école. It is the route followed by the future élite of the country who are destined to hold the reins of power in government and industry. The major refers to the best student leaving the school in a given year or promotion. Out of the 80 French chairmen and CEOs of the CAC 40, 23 are Polytechnicians, 16 are énarques, 6 have studied at both schools and 18 are former HEC and ESSEC students.
Grands Corps de l'Etat. Les ***
These are the most prestigious government and technical corps of the republic staffed by the cream of the cream of students from l’ENA. The best students traditionally choose the Inspection des Finances, le Conseil d'Etat and finally the Cour des Comptes, while for the technical corps, the students choose Les Mines and then Les Ponts et Chaussées.There is no legal definition of the corps but its members are to be found at the very top echelons of the French civil service and private industry.
Inspection Générale des Finances. L’ ***
If there is an elite in France, then the Inspecteurs des Finances are considered to be the cream of the cream of this élite. Members are recruited essentially from l'ENA and more specifically from those students who were dans la botte i.e. who were in the top fifteen places on leaving the school. The best students invariably choose the Inspection des Finances or the Conseil d'Etat. The role of the inspecteurs (who are under the authority of the ministry of finance) is to guarantee good stewardship as far as the use of state funds is concerned. Some inspectors leave their corps to work on secondment in publicly owned companies or pantouflent in private industry. Some of the biggest scandals and corporate failures of the past few years have implicated inspecteurs des finances e.g. Jean Marie Messier (Vivendi Universal), Jean-Yves Haberer and Jean-Claude Trichet (Crédit Lyonnais).
Maison de l'Amérique Latine. La *
Located in the heart of Paris, in the seventh arrondissment, it was originally founded by General de Gaulle to foster relations between France and Latin America. It is in fact a mansion situated in beautiful grounds with a high-quality restaurant. It is the ideal venue for seminars.
Maison de la Chimie. La **
This is the oldest conference centre in France. It is an eighteenth century mansion located in the seventh arrondissement of Paris at a stone's throw from the National Assembly.Today it is an international congress centre. Political meetings often take place here. It is also known as a good address to eat at.
Palais de la Mutualité. Le ***
La Maison de la Mutualité is a polyvalent hall in the fifth arrondissement of Paris (rue Saint Victor). It is the HQ of the French mutualist movement and is better known as the venue for shows, conferences, pop concerts and mass meetings of political parties, generally left wing.
The Skeletons in Marianne’s cupboard
Ben Barka **
Mehdi Ben Barka (1920-65) was a Moroccan politician hostile to the French protectorate of Morocco and the main opponent of the regime of Hassan II. He was kidnapped on 29 October in front of the brasserie Lipp, in the bld. Saint Germain in Paris, by two French police officers. He was taken to Fontenay le Vicomte in the département of the Essonne (91) and was never seen again.
Boulin, Robert **
Robert Boulin, (1920-79) minister of labour at the time of his death, had a long political career and was a credible contender for the position of prime minister in the late seventies. He was found dead in the lake of Rambouillet in 1979. The initial version of suicide was soon rejected by the general public and his own family in the light of many worrying inconsistencies and the 'disappearance' of key organic exhibits from the Institut Médico-Légal i.e. the coroner’s office. A post mortem carried out at the request of the Boulin family, 3 years after the death, revealed that Robert Boulin had sustained several fractures to the face, totally inconsistent with the 'suicide' theory. All attempts by the family to get the case reopened have so far ended in failure. It is interesting to note that at the time of his death, Robert Boulin was the victim of a smear campaign intended to discredit him politically. In his attempt to fight back, he hinted that he was in possession of some files concerning illegal funding of political parties. He left home on the night of his death with a dossier. The dossier has never been found.
Carrefour du développement. Le **
In 1983, the minister of cooperation, the socialist Christian Nucci (a free mason) set up the association Carrefour du développement the object of which was to fund the then upcoming Franco-African summit. When the Right returned to power in 1986, the new minister of cooperation unveiled a report made by the public accounting office (Cour des Comptes) which pinpointed the misappropriation of funds that had taken place under Nucci and even more so by Yves Chalier his head of office (equally a free mason). The latter fled the country with the help of Charles Pasqua the minister of the interior. Pasqua had the DST (counter espionnage) fabricate an authentic-counterfeit passport (vrai-faux passeport) to enable Chalier to leave the country under the assumed name of ‘Navarro’. The basic idea was to create difficulties for the socialists. This must be set in the context of the right-left war during the first 'cohabitation' i.e. socialist President and right wing prime minister. After six months on the run, Chalier returned to France and was given a jail sentence of 5 years without remission. The socialist minister Nucci was granted a pardon and Charles Pasqua could not be prosecuted since he was protected by parliamentary immunity. ‘Vrai-faux’ is now used in a variety of contexts.
Charonne. La station du métro *
On 8 February 1962, an anti-OAS demonstration took place in Paris in spite of having been forbidden by the police. The demonstrators were savagely dispersed and nine of them were killed in the resulting panic, near the underground train station 'Charonne' in the eleventh arrondissement. The Prefet of Police at the time was Maurice Papon. See Chapter 14 ‘OAS’.
corvée de bois nf *
A military euphemism which referred to the assassination of FLN or suspected FLN members arrested by the French military during the Algerian war of independence. It consisted of taking prisoners into the woods and killing them and burying them in common graves; this was an alternative to throwing their corpses into the sea from helicopters.
Crédit Lyonnais. Le **
In 1988 Jean-Yves Haberer (major de sa promotion à l'ENA), Inspecteur des Finances was appointed as President of the Crédit Lyonnais bank, one of the top three banks in France at the time. A hazardous policy of growth at any price plus the 'law of silence' on the part of the Inspection des Finances drove the bank into bankruptcy. On 5 May 1996 a strange fire broke out in the HQ of the Crédit Lyonnais bld des Italiens in Paris. A fortnight later, the banking archives stored in a warehouse in Le Havre went up in smoke. The crash of one of the biggest French banks cost the French taxpayer 50 billion euros in total. Jean-Yves Haberer was given a 2 year suspended prison sentence.The governor of the Bank of France, at the time, who had an overseeing role, was Jean Claude Trichet (énarque). He was tried for having presented accounts that were not true and fair and for the dissemination of false financial information. He was acquitted and became Governor of the European Central Bank. The second part of the Crédit Lyonnais scandal is known by the name ‘Executive Life’. See below.
de Broglie *
The prince Jean de Broglie (1921-76) was an eminent French politician who had consistently been returned to Parliament as MP for the département of the Eure (28). He was assassinated on 24 December 1976. Although three people were convicted as either killer or accessory, no one has ever found the real motive for his assassination. The police were at the crime scene before the crime took place and rumours had been circulating for weeks about the assassination. Shortly before his death, de Broglie had announced his intention of leaving the Giscard camp for that of Chirac. In 1995 and 1996 France was severely criticised by the European Court of Human Rights for the handling of this affair. The minister of the interior, in flagrant violation of the presumption of innocence, declared that the case was closed and the guilty parties had been apprehended.
de Grossouvre. François *
François de Grossouvre (1918-94) had been a resistant during the war and a member of the SDECE. He was the grey eminence of François Mitterrand and was in charge of the presidential hunt. He was the special advisor in parallel diplomacy for Tunisia, the Lebanon, Morocco and Syria. He was also in charge of the security surrounding the secrecy of the existence of F. Mitterrand’s illegitimate daughter Mazarine, whose godfather he was. He left Mitterand’s cabinet in 1985 but still retained the role related to the hunt and to protecting Mazarine. He still had an office in the Elysée. He was disgusted by the drift that presidential power was taking and gave frequent interviews to the press. He was found dead in his office at the Elysées on 7 April 1994. Rumour had it that he was depressed but in fact there are very serious reasons to believe that he was assassinated.
The weapon used was a high calibre .357 magnum; it is impossible that nobody heard the shot. Nobody heard the shot.
His body bore signs of physical aggression i.e. facial injuries, and during the post mortem it was discovered that his shoulder had been dislocated, consistent with the idea that he had been held by force in the position in which he died.
He had spoken to his family about his fears of being eliminated.
His children who started their own investigations received death threats.
No serious investigation was ever made into his death.
This is the former name of the petrol company Total. This was an affair of corruption implicating the top management of the company (le Floch Prigent, Alfred Sirven and André Tallaro), a host of go-betweens and several politicians, among them Roland Dumas. The Elf scandal was triggered by a small affair of misuse of company funds by the PDG of Elf, Loïk le Floch Prigent, who had invested 800 million francs of Elf 's money to help bail out a failing company run by one of his close friends, Maurice Bidermann. But during the investigation of this affair, another huge affair, was uncovered.The then minister of foreign affairs was accused of having accepted expensive presents from a top class whore employed by Elf to seduce the minister and to persuade him to lift his veto on the sale of 6 Lafayette class frigates to Taiwan. He was later forced to resign from the presidency of the Conseil d'Etat. 'Retro commissions' were paid to eminent French politicians but the case is covered by 'le secret défense'. The truth concerning politicians who received kickbacks will thus never be known. Several prison sentences were given to the former Chairman, Le Floc Prigent and his slush fund manager Alfred Sirven. See below ‘Frégates’. See Chapter 9 ‘Eva Joly’.
emplois fictifs de l'Hotel de Ville nmpl **
This scandal concerns the phoney job positions at the Hotel de Ville, people who received salaries paid for by taxpayers' money but who were, in fact, working for the political party founded by Jacques Chirac, the RPR. The offence of 'misappropriation of public funds' took place between 1988 and 1995 period during which Jacques Chirac was president of the political party RPR and mayor of Paris. According to a police report, the amount of money involved was 30 million francs. While President of France, J Chirac was protected by his presidential immunity. Since having left the Elysée, he has been charged with 'détournement de fonds publics'. The affair is ongoing. It was in this affair that Alain Juppé was given a 14 month suspended prison sentence and sentenced to one year's ineligibility as secretary general of the Paris Town Hall in charge of finance. See above 'chargé de mission'.
Executive Life *
Under US law, a foreign bank is not allowed to buy an American life assurance company. In spite of this legislation, the head of the French bank Crédit Lyonnais, Jean-Yves Haberer, in flagrant defiance of US legislation, bought the US Company, Executive Life, using another company as a front. The violation was discovered in 1998 and the US began to negotiate the ‘fines’ for the various protagonists involved. The ultimate cost for the French taxpayer will be huge and known only in 2014.
Frégates de Taiwan nfpl ***
This is a sub chapter of the Elf scandal.The scandal bears on 3 billion francs of under the table commissions paid at the time of operation 'Bravo' i.e. the sale to Taïwan of 6 Lafayette-class frigates manufactured by Thomson CSF. (See ‘Elf’ above). Several people involved in the case have died in curious circumstances. Thierry Imbot, member of the DGSE in Peking, was on the point of meeting the French press when he fell from his Paris apartment on the fifth floor in the year 2000. He fell 'accidentally' while closing the shutters.The body of Yin Ching-Feng of the Taïwanese navy was found floating in the bay of Teipei in 1993; he was on the point of revealing the names of Taïwanese naval officers who had been 'bought' by Thompson. Jean Claude Albessart delegate of the international branch of Thomson in Taïwan died from what was called 'lightning cancer'. Jacques Morisson, former French navy specialist who had joined Thomson CSF, threw himself out of his apartment window in Neuilly in 2001. The ‘secret défense’ was the reply of the government to requests to access confidential information that would have revealed the names of those politicians who had received a slice of the cake.
gégéne nf *
This term is the diminutive of 'génératrice d'électricité'. It is military slang for torture by electrical generator that was practised in Algeria by French troops to obtain information from suspected members of the FLN.
Harkis nmpl *
They were soldiers recruited locally in Algeria to back up the French army between 1957 and 1962 during the Algerian war of independence. ‘Harki’ comes from the Arab word 'harka' meaning ‘movement’. They were in fact mobile territorial units.The name was later used to refer to those Algerian Muslims who supported Algeria's continued attachment to France and it was to become a synonym of ‘traitor’. Under the terms of the Evian agreement, putting an end to the war, the harkis were disarmed by the French army and left defenceless. Disciplinary measures were threatened against any French soldier trying to assist the repatriation of any harki. Estimates put the number of those massacred between March and autumn 1962 at between 60 000 and 90 000. In 1962, thousands of harkis and their families were able to embark on ships bound for France thanks to those French officers who had disobeyed orders.
In spite of the arms embargo against Iran, between 1984 and 1986, Luchaire exported half a million artillery shells to Iran. The socialist party is said to have received 3 million francs in commission for turning a blind eye to these exports. In spite of months of investigation and the accusations against the then minister of defence, Charles Hernu, nothing came of the affair because the ‘secret défense’ was invoked by those concerned.
lycées de l'ile de France nmpl **
This was the biggest corruption scandal of the V Republic. The RPR, the PS, the PCF, the CDS and the PR collectively received 200 million francs in 'racket' money. In the nineties, a vast programme was launched for the extension, renovation and construction of 470 secondary schools in the greater Paris region and involving 24 billion francs of investment. An illicit agreement resulted in 2% of the value of the contracts signed with certain construction companies being paid back to political parties across practically the whole political spectrum. The scandal was denounced by the Green party who had turned down the offer to have a slice of the cake. See Chapter 14 RPR, PS, PCF, PR
On 6 December 1986, a huge student demonstration was organised in Paris and violent clashes took place between the police and the students. At midnight, a 22 year old student Malik Oussekine, was leaving a jazz club when he was chased by two 'voltigeurs' (police on motorbikes). Typically such units were used to clear the streets of demonstrators after a 'demo'. The student took refuge in the hallway of an apartment building but the police came after him and, according to the eye witness, beat the student with extraordinary violence, hitting him with a truncheon and kicking him in the stomach and back. An ambulance was called but the student died soon after his admission to hospital, from the beating and kidney failure. A plaque now marks the place in Paris where Malik died 'beaten to death'. There is no mention of the fact that he died from police brutality.
Overney. Pierre *
He was a 24 year old, left-wing activist working in the Renault car factory at Boulogne-Billancourt in the Paris suburbs. He was sacked because of his political activities. Soon after, on 25 February 1972, while handing out tracts outside the factory, tracts to commemorate the Massacre of Charonne (See above), he was shot by a Renault vigilante, Jean-Antoine Tramoni. Tramoni was assassinated 5 years later by the 'Noyeaux armés pour l'autonomie populaire'. The name of Pierre Overney was also mentioned at the time of the assassination of the head of Renault, Georges Besse, in 1986. He was killed by ‘Action Directe' by the commando unit having as its name 'Pierre Overney'.
This affair must be understood in the context of 1968. Georges Pompidou, the prime minister, had announced his intention to run for the presidency as de Gaulle's successor. Stevan Markovic, Alain Delon's odd-job man, was found dead on a Paris rubbish tip on 1 October 1968. It was thought that he had been blackmailing some show business friends of Delon using photos taken during sexual orgies. Soon after the death of Markovic, rumours began to evoke the presence of Pompidou's wife, Claude, at such orgies. A bogus photo showing a woman vaguely resembling Mme Pompidou was in circulation. It is also thought that Markovic was an honorable correspondent of the French secret service (the then SDECE). Finally, Pompidou was elected President and heads began to roll at the SDECE. See Chapter 14 SDECE.
Massacre à Paris 1961 **
On 17 October 1961, a demonstration by 30, 000 Algerian supporters of Algerian independence marched through Paris. The prefet de police at the time, Maurice Papon, gave orders to disperse the demonstrators. They were savagely attacked by the police, and in the following days, dozens of dead Algerian bodies were pulled out of the Seine. Official figures gave the death toll of the Algerians as '2'. Conservative estimates put the death toll at over 200. Many of them had been 'drowned by bullets' to quote the expression of the time. The contribution to the French language was the expression 'noyés par balles'.
Piat Yann **
She was a French right wing politician, born in 1949 in Hanoi. In her early political career she was on the extreme right wing but turned to the centre later on. She was UDF member of parliament for the département of the Var (83). She intended to stand for the position of mayor of Hyères in the municipal elections of 1995. Her declared intention was to put an end to the collusion between politicians and the mafia in the département of the Var. She was assassinated by two men on a motorbike in 1994. Those who commissioned the attack have never been found.
This was the name of a pseudo consultancy firm set up by the Socialist Party in 1971. Its object was to centralise the collection of money received at the moment of the awarding of public tenders to construction companies. Companies wishing to take part in a public tender had to pay from 2% to 4% of the value of the contract to Urba. A system of false invoices was set up. The money thus collected was transferred to the socialist party to fund the upcoming election of 1974. A judicial inquiry was opened for extortion, corruption and the drawing up and use of false documents. Political interference slowed down the inquiry. The stubborn police inspector in charge of the investigation was 'transferred', then ‘taken off the case’, and finally ‘dismissed’ from the police force in 1991. Nevertheless, the inquiry proceded. Henri Emmanuelli, the treasurer of the Socialist Party, was charged with influence peddling and complicity and was given an 18 month suspended prison sentence and 2 years' civic ineligibility.
Vrai-faux passeport. Le ***
See above ‘Carrefour du Développement’