Read CHAPTER X. of English Pharisees and French Crocodiles, free online book, by Max O'Rell, on


Languages have this in common with many mortals; when they borrow they do not return.  This is perhaps a happy thing, for when borrowed words do get returned, good Heavens! what a state they come home in!

We thought we were doing a fine thing in taking the words ticket, jockey, budget, tunnel, fashion from the English.  They are, however, but French words mutilated, and there is not much to be proud of in reacquiring them.  The English had borrowed of us étiqueter, jacquet (petit Jacques), bougette (the king’s privy purse), façon.  Better they had kept them.  Up to the nineteenth century, it was by reason of war and conquest that both conquerors and conquered saw their vocabularies invaded by foreign words; but is it not strange that in the nineteenth century, the century of civilization, so-called, peace between England and France should bring about such a disastrous result?

Formerly we used to dejeuner.

Nous avons change tout cela; nowadays nous lunchons. Nous lunchons! What a barbarous mouthful, is it not?

The word dejeuner signifying “to cease fasting,” or, as the English say, “to breakfast,” it is wrongly used in speaking of a second repast. Dejeuner is, therefore, irrational; but is this any excuse for making ourselves grotesque?

But, my dear compatriots, we are avenged.  I read in the London Standard

“Prince Albert Victor was yesterday admitted to the freedom of the City of London....  The royal party and a large company of invited guests were afterward entertained at a dejeuner in the Guildhall, the Lord Mayor presiding.”

Now that the French lunch, the English will dejeuner more than ever, of course.

Parisian good society no longer takes tea, it “five o’clocks”; and the bourgeois is beginning to put at the foot of his cards of invitation: 

On five o’clockera a neuf heures.

When the English wish to have a song or a piece of music repeated by an artist, they shout:  Encore! And, the following day, the papers, in their accounts of the performance, announce that Mademoiselle So-and-So was encored.

While I am upon this subject, allow me to give you a little sample of modern English; it will prove to you that Alexander Dumas was right, when he pronounced English to be only French badly pronounced, and I would add, badly spelt: 

“The concert was brilliant, and the ensemble excellent.  Miss N - was encored, but Mr. D -, who made his debut, only obtained a succès d’estime.”

Go to Trafalgar Square.  Place yourself at the foot of that long Roman candle, on the summit of which the statue of Nelson may be perceived ... on a clear day.  Turn toward the Palace of Westminster, and you will see on your left the Grand Hotel and the Avenue Theatre, on your right the Hotel Metropole.  In your rear you will find the National Gallery.  As all these buildings are within a hundred yards of Charing Cross station, the terminus at which you alight on coming from France, your first impression will be that it will not take you long to learn to speak English.  Ah! dear compatriots, be not deceived; you little guess the terrible perfidiousness of that language.  Those provoking Britons seem to have taken a wicked pleasure in inventing a collection of unheard-of sounds, a pronunciation that will fill your hearts with despair, and that puts them quite out of the reach of imitation.

Thou mayest dress like an Englishman, dear compatriot, eat roast beef like an Englishman, but, never, never wilt thou speak English like an Englishman.  Thou wilt always massacre his language; let this console thee for hearing him massacre thine.

In the Spectator of the 8th of September, 1711, Addison wrote: 

“I have often wished, that as in our Constitution there are several persons whose business it is to watch over our laws, our liberties, and commerce, certain men might be set apart as superintendents of our language, to hinder any words of a foreign coin from passing among us; and, in particular, to prohibit any French phrases from becoming current in this kingdom, when those of our stamp are altogether as valuable.  The present war has so adulterated our tongue with strange words, that it would be impossible for one of our grandfathers to know what his posterity have been doing, were he to read their exploits in a modern newspaper.”

Oh, Addison, stop thy ears, and veil thy face!

M. Hippolyte Cocheris, the learned French philologist, quotes, in one of his writings, a piece of prose from an aristocratic pen, which appeared in N of the New Monthly.  It runs as follows: 

“I was chez moi, inhaling the odeur musquee of my scented boudoir, when the Prince of Z - entered.  He found me in my demi-toilette, blasee sur tout, and pensively engaged in solitary conjugation of the verb s’ennuyer, and though he had never been one of my habitues, or by any means des nôtres, I was not inclined at this moment of délassement to glide with him into the crocchio restretto of familiar chat.”

To edify his readers, and make them appreciate this little masterpiece of hybrid style at its due value, M. Cocheris proceeds to translate the piece into French, carefully replacing all the words in italics by English ones, thus: 

J’etais at home, aspirant la musky smell de mon private room, lorsque Prince de Z -entra.  Il me trouva en simple dress, fatigued with everything, tristement occupe a conjuguer verbe to be weary, et quoique je ne l’eusse jamais compte au nombre de mes intimates, et qu’il ne fût, en aucune façon of our set, j’etais assez disposee a entrer avec lui dans crocchio restretto d’une causerie familière.

M. H. Cocheris maintains that a French author would never dare to have recourse to such a literary proceeding.  Nonsense!  Read our novels, read our newspapers.  At every page, you find mention made of fashionables in knickerbockers, who, dressed in ulsters, repair to the turf in a dogcart with a groom and a bulldog.  They bring up at a bar and eat a slice of pudding or a sandwich, washed down with a bowl of punch or a cocktail.  These gentlemen have the spleen, in spite of the comfortable life they lead.  In the evening, they go and applaud the humor of a clown, and call snobs those who prefer the Comedie Francaise.

If this picture of the state of things be really a true one, the French Academy, which was founded to look after the mother tongue of Moliere, had better lower its blinds and burn tapers.