Welcome to Declassified, a weekly column looking at the lighter side of politics.
As new year’s resolutions go, wanting to “piss off” the unvaccinated is significantly more realistic than, say, getting in shape to run a marathon, writing a novel or not wearing pajamas in work Zoom meetings.
Yet Emmanuel Macron’s use of the phrase kicked up quite a stink, with opponents accusing him of using language unbefitting of a world leader. Perhaps he should discuss that next time he’s on the phone with Boris Johnson, who in 2016 wrote the following poem about the Turkish president:
“There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.”
Admittedly, Johnson wasn’t a world leader at the time (you could argue he still isn’t).
But back to Macron, and surely pissing off the unvaccinated is a) desirable, as they are stopping us getting rid of this cursed virus, and b) easy. You ask them to get a jab that will hopefully reduce the chances of killing grandma, or ask them to wear a small piece of cloth over their mouth and nose for a bit so that children can have an education, and they go ballistic, wailing on about “freedom” and how the extensive research they’ve conducted on Facebook means they know more than actual scientists. See, easy!
But who was Macron thinking about with his very carefully chosen words? Will the unvaccinated in France really respond by going “zut alors, we’ve really angered the president, better get down to the vaccination center rapidement!” Unlikely.
Maybe Macron’s words were aimed at the opposition, knowing that his rivals would be annoyed at him for speaking in such a way? Likely. Perhaps his intended audience were the man and woman in the street, who may feel disconnected from a former Rothschild investment banker? Also likely. One thing’s for sure, Macron certainly wasn’t thinking about English-language media (how dare he?), who have had all sorts of trouble translating the word he used — “emmerder.”
Here at POLITICO Towers, where you can’t swing a cat without hitting a native French speaker (of course cat-swinging was outlawed around the time of the first lockdown), we went for “piss off” as the translation. There are a range of other possible translations, from the mild — “annoy” — to the scatalogical — “make things shit” — to the rather angry — “fuck them over.”
Not everyone decided to tackle the translation head-on: The New York Times went with “making their life miserable,” which lacks the punch Macron was surely hoping to land.
Thank goodness we haven’t just started a six-month EU presidency that’s part of a cunning Paris plan to make 2022 the year of the French language. Oh.
“Not going to lie, I thought the Greens would take government more seriously than this.”
Last time we gave you this photo:
Thanks for all the entries. Here’s the best from our postbag (there’s no prize except for the gift of laughter, which I think we can all agree is far more valuable than cash or booze).
“Oh, you wanted to see urban Hungary!” by Christoffer Jakobsson Gottberg.
Paul Dallison is POLITICO‘s slot news editor.