Eurofile: French is revealed in all its glory

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IF YOU'RE an evapore (airhead) when it comes to Francais, then the revolutionary new Oxford- Hachette dictionary may be the answer. The two publishers spent pounds 4m and employed 130 people to coax the subtle nuances from more than 359,000 words and phrases, a task never before undertaken in a French/English dictionary.

The editors had access to a vast electronic database of current French and English words from such sources as newspapers and literary novels. The database was used to settle disputes about how the language is used by French people rather than a few editors. The Oxford-Hachette is also useful for checking on those annoying French words that sound as if they should be translated directly but aren't. A worry about promiscuite in an office is not what it seems, since promiscuite means a lack of privacy or overcrowding rather than the more intimate vagabondage.

There is also a fascinating section explaining the mysteries of French small ads, petites annonces, with the delightful prest. lux. (prestations luxueuses) for 'luxuriously appointed', tt cft (tout confort) for 'all mod cons', F4 for 'a 3-bedroom flat' and the wonderful cse mutation (pour cause de mutation) for 'because of job transfer'.

Best of all, though, are the explanations of French idioms in which it is revealed that avaler son bulletin de naissance, literally 'to swallow one's birth certificate', means to die, or that the exclamation, la barbe], literally 'the beard', means 'I've had enough]' The dictionary costs pounds 19.95.

A TEAM of MEPs recently returned from Turkey has threatened to break off parliamentary ties with the country because of its treatment of the Kurdish minority. Six Kurdish deputies from the Democratic Party have been put on trial for having contacts with Kurdish terrorists: they may face the death penalty if found guilty. Jannis Sakellariou, a German socialist, said that the trial was 'wholly unacceptable,' and that the Joint EU/Turkey Parliamentary committee should not be re- established, as had been planned.

BECAUSE they are counted as part of the European Union for certain purposes, the French Overseas Departments do rather nicely out of EU cash hand-outs. Between them, Guadeloupe (population 350,000), Guiana (100,000), Martinique (350,000), and Reunion (600,000) are to get 1.5bn ecus ( pounds 1.2bn) over the next six years from the EU's regional funds - about pounds 1,000 per inhabitant, or roughly the same as the people of Northern Ireland. That seems a lot of cash, considering the point of the funds is greater economic and social cohesion in Europe.

LAST weekend 57 people were killed on Spanish roads, the most deadly 48-hour period in the country so far this year. The death toll compared badly with the previous weekend when 34 people were killed in road accidents as millions of Spaniards began their summer holidays. Spain's roads are among the most dangerous in the European Union with dozens of people being killed each week. In all, 4,732 people died in highway accidents last year.

TENSIONS are rising between Greece and its neighbour Albania over the impending trial on treason charges of five leaders of Albania's ethnic Greek community. The Greek-speaking community of southern Albania longs for enosis or unity with Athens and suffers constant repression from the post-communist regime in Tirana.

'I must state that the Greek government has the political will and the strength to confront any situation which would have negative consequences,' said Greece's Foreign Minister, Carolos Papoulias, yesterday. Greece has repeatedly demanded that Albanian authorities drop the charges against the five ethnic Greeks. They could face the death penalty if convicted.

MENTIONING Greece, it seems that the Greek authorities have seized Mon Repos, the home of the former King Constantine. The King has complained loudly, but as Peter Murtagh's just published book, The Rape of Greece points out, Mon Repos was where the colonels' coup of 1967 was hatched.