French academic starts campaign against English faux pas

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The Independent Online
WOULD YOU like to eat some "muscles of marines" or that, presumably Irish, delicacy "Steak O'Poivre"? Afterwards, "Please to try the tarts of the house, available for your delight on the trolley."

Collecting absurd renditions of English in foreign menus, brochures and on the backs of hotel doors has long been a harmless pastime for English- speaking travellers. Now two essays, part-serious, part-amusing on the subject have arrived from the most unlikely of sources: Maurice Druon, the perpetual secretary of the Academie Francaise, the organisation devoted to protecting the purity and clarity of the French language.

Mr Druon, 81, novelist, historian, playwright, former war correspondent and former minister, is known for his stout, and wry, defences of French, often fulminating against its creeping Anglicisation or Americanisation.

In two articles in Le Figaro, he warns that the emergence of English as a global language threatens to make "unrecognisable" and "ridiculous" a patchwork of vaguely connected international jargons.

"My role as perpetual secretary of the Academie Francaise is to defend French but I do not dislike English. I love English," Mr Druon said in an interview yesterday.

"I learnt my English while in London during the war from a very special source, listening to the radio speeches of Winston Churchill.

"I am not against English. I am against Anglomoricain, the language of airports and travel agents."

Mr Druon brings together a delightful collection of "Anglomoricain", or approximate English, including some examples sent in by readers.

A sign at a prudish German camp-site reads: "It is strictly forbidden on our camp-site that people of different sex, for instance men and women, live together in one tent, unless they are married with each other for this purpose."

A hotel in Zurich has similar anxieties. "Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose." A sign on a hotel bedroom door in Tokyo is far more accommodating: "You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid."

A Belgian cafe advertises"hand and egg". A doctor in Rome is a "specialist in women and other diseases". A Swiss furrier offers coats "made for ladies from their own skin". The two examples at the start of this article come from a luxury hotel in Cairo, which also offers customers "soap of the day", "frog leagues", "two peasants", and "cafe au lit". Diners are advised: "If you are wishing to show feeling, wait until you see the mangeress."

Mr Druon, who is a Commander of the British Empire, among a host of French and foreign honours, believes that the English language needs the equivalent of an Academie Francaise to protect it from such casual atrocities.

Although he is not certain of its success. "A formal institution is not, maybe, in your cultural tradition. It might be possible however, to have a club of some of the most respected writers, scientists, personalities, who would issues warnings when they felt that the language was under serious threat," he said.

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