Julie Burchill: An up-itself language that deserves to be thrown in the dustbin of history

It was the advent of rock'n'roll which sent French into a tailspin that it would never recover from

Saturday 22 October 2011 21:57

As someone who has always believed that the Italians do the things the French are famous for (vino, vittles, va-va-voom, First Ladies of the French Republic) far better anyway, I was pleased to hear that the incredibly up-itself French language suffered another blow this week when a Eurostat survey found that 66 per cent of Europeans now speak English, more than 300 million use English as their first foreign language, and half of these regard themselves as fluent.

English is apparently the first foreign language studied in primary schools in every country outside Britain and Ireland except Luxembourg, where they do German instead. (Come on Luxembourg – I know our Rhineland chums started two world wars by walking into other people's countries like they owned the place, but don't assume they're gonna do it again. We have to MOVE ON! You'll probably NEVER HAVE TO BEG THEM not to murder your entire family for looking at them funny – so give that nasty, phlegmy tongue up and learn English like the rest of your continental cousins.) In secondary schools, English is the first choice in every EU country; German is the second most popular. Ooo, someone's been reading their AJP Taylor!

This being so, it seems absolutely crazy – even by the bathing-in-asses'-milk-and-having-your-morning-paper-delivered-by-a-caravan-of-pink-painted-elephants level of extravagance of the average MEP – that a billion pounds a year is spent by Brussels translating every official document and speech by EU politicians and bureaucrats into the 23 recognised languages of the member states. Who do we think would have a full-on hissy-fit if this massively wasteful extravagance was curbed? Plucky Denmark? Soulful Bulgaria? Cheery Portugal? I doubt it. No, it's the French. If they thought for a minute that the EU was calling their twisty old tongue a dying language, they'd probably nuke Strasbourg.

Gone are the days when French used to be the international language of diplomacy. It must be a bitter pill that the remnants of this past glory can still be seen on international documents from passports to airmail – that PAR AVION which gave us such a kick when we were kids. Until the UK joined in 1973, French and German were the only official languages of the EEC – you bet that De Gaulle said "Non" for so long to our entry.

It was the advent of rock'n'roll, though, which sent French into a tailspin that it would never recover from. While perfectly appropriate for Maurice Chevalier to perv over little girls in, the more immediate emotions of this new music were a bad match with this emollient lingo. To my mind the inherent phoniness of French is expressed in the paradox of Edith Piaf's "Je Ne Regrette Rien", in which a perfectly sensible statement sounds like a person going crazy, so hard does the singer have to fight against the soppiness of the way it sounds.

Here in Britain we are so used to the idea that language is a living, breathing, changing thing – despite what the ridiculous Emma Thompson may wish – that when I first heard about the Academie Francaise, I really thought someone was having a laugh; that or describing the plot of some weird Peter Sellers film. So there's this organisation established in the 17th century by Cardinal Richelieu, made up of 40 members known as the "les immortels" (a total of 719, a whopping six of whom have been women: pretty fast going for a nation which didn't give women the vote until 1944) who, like the Pope, are elected for life, and are kept in line by a "Perpetual Secretary". Interestingly, the list of French writers who never became members is far more impressive – Rousseau, Balzac, Flaubert, Molière, Proust and Zola – than those who did.

Les immortels wear a uniform of long black coats and black-feathered cocked hats, each embroidered with golden-green leafy motifs, though I'm unclear as to whether they wield the ceremonial swords each member receives at their meetings. And then they get down to the serious business of attempting to keep their language pure, untouched by evil anglicisation. Just HOW comic is the idea of all these educated, cultured characters sitting around getting their French knickers in a twist over abominations such as le jazz hot and le weekend?

Anyone who's that precious about a language deserves to see it dumped in the remainder bin of history. Learn Italian, because it's beautiful, or Spanish, because it's beautiful and because it's already the second language of the USA. If you're really smart, learn Mandarin or Russian. If you're really, REALLY smart, like me, learn Hebrew. After all, if the Jews really run the world to the extent we're always being told they do, doesn't it make sense to eavesdrop on them and find out exactly what dastardly Gentile-baby-eating/Arab-toddler-organ-stealing deeds they're plotting next? Mazel tov!

Lifestyle: Why getting fat is a happiness issue

So many scientific surveys seem to prove nothing except that scientists are handed too much public money to state the sodding obvious. So when one first gives you a shock and then makes you smile at the idea of all the sad-sacks it'll upset, it's a real minor pleasure.

My favourite is the argument that the easier abortion is, the further crime levels plummet in the next generation, as explained so brilliantly in Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics. And now those clever boffins at the University of Kentucky have found that sugar provides the brain with fuel to push away negative, dark and vengeful thoughts.

Someone tell Naomi Campbell! To us lard-buckets, it's pretty obvious that we're happier than the anorexic ranks of the "hangry" (hungry/angry.). And a lot of it has to do with being left alone by a certain sort of man. When I was 18, I was a perfect 10 with a handspan waist – I DID attract some specimens! As I got fatter and slid up rather than down the greasy pole of fame and fortune, the idea that creeps would never bother me for sex again was a wonderful idea – the sort of goal-led inspiration that getting into a lovely dress gives women who want to go from fat to thin.

Fat people aren't generally self-loathing. Self-indulgent, yes – but the two aren't the same. See the woman who starves herself, chucks up her dinner or spends her leisure time pounding the road to nowhere at the gym (all things which indicate dissatisfaction with oneself rather than acceptance) when she could be eating, drinking and making merry. That'll be your self-loather, not we indolent porkers. Eat THAT!

Education: A scandalous cover-up in school classrooms

Ofsted has approved three Muslim faith schools in which girls as young as 11 are required to wear the niquab – the face veil which leaves only the eyes uncovered – and/or the head-to-toe burka to and from school.

As used as we are to the sick Islamist view of human sexuality which has it that all women are temptresses and all men ravening beasts liable to run amok at the glimpse of an ankle, how shocking is this? How perverse and perverted to dress up even pre-teen girls in these life-denying shrouds? Surely the baby burka is already a twinkle in some mad mullah's eye, so that the filthy little sluts can safely be condemned to a living death while still in nappies – just to be on the safe side.

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