Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2002 / 12 Teves, 5763
French government says no to @ symbol
As if French were not confusing enough, the government has now decreed that there are two official names for the "@" symbol in e-mail addresses.
In its never-ending, if futile, attempt to defend French against the spread of English in cyberspace, the French government announced recently that the symbol for "at" can be called either arobase or arrobe. However, contrary to popular custom, the French have been told to refer to the symbol only as arrobe when giving out their e-mail addresses.
The government is unlikely to have any better luck with this than it did with an earlier decree to refer to Internet start-up companies as jeunes pousses or "young sprouts." (Americans, on the other hand, refer to these companies as "financial suicide.")
I find myself in the unfamiliar and awkward position of sympathizing with the French on this particular matter. It is a sad thing to see one's native language swallowed up by another, especially a language as messy as English. Fortunately, it does not have to be this way. While I don't particularly care how the French pronounce the symbol for "at," there is no reason for them to adopt the American terms for other computer-related topics.
While my knowledge of French is pretty much limited to Plus de vin, s'il-vous plais (More wine, please) and Tels ne sont pas des escargots, j'espèrent (Those are not snails, I hope), I do have access to a Web site called Babel Fish (www.babelfish.altavista.com) that will do English/French translations for me. If the translations aren't as eloquent as they might be, keep in mind that we're dealing with a computer.
Since a computer is basically a little gray box filled with frustration, there is no reason why the people of France and America cannot express their disdain for these infernal devices in their native tongues. "This machine would make a good boat anchor" would, in French, read Cette machine ferait une bonne ancre de bateau.
Computers love to display those little error messages at the precise moment that you stand to lose the most work. "I will perform an illegal operation on you with a hammer" becomes, in French, J'effectuerai une opération illégale sur vous avec un marteau.
No one can work on a computer for any length of time before he or she becomes convinced there is such a thing as demonic possession. "My motherboard is the bride of Satan" becomes, in French, Ma carte mère est la jeune mariée de Satan.
If you have a computer, then a great deal of time is going to be spent on hold, waiting for help from tech services. "Hello, Houston? We have a problem" sounds better when you say it in French: Bonjour, Houston? Nous avons un problème.
The time. The expense. There comes a time when you wonder whether it's all worth it. An American might express his depression by saying, "I would be better off throwing my money down a rat hole." The French, on the other hand, would say Je serais meilleur outre de jeter mon argent en bas d'un trou de rat.
Some people attribute human qualities to their computers. Evil human qualities. "Why do you hate me?" reads, in French, Pourquoi me détestez-vous?
But, of course, computers are good for some things. "So many varieties of porn, so little time" becomes Tant de variétés de porn, tellement peu d'heure.
Finally, when our frustration becomes too much to bear, we issue the following terse order: "Download this!"
Or, as they say in France, Téléchargez ceci! Perhaps there is a universal language, after all.
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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.
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