President Emmanuel Macron has come under a blizzard of Gallic mockery for using the English term “bottom-up” at a key speech days after launching an international drive to promote French as a “world language”.
Commentators took umbrage at the French president’s decision to dabble in franglais during a speech on artificial intelligence last Thursday at the College de France, a hallowed centre of academic excellence in Paris.
At one point, Mr Macron, a fluent English-speaker, intoned: “La démocratie est le système le plus bottom-up de la terre” (Democracy is the most bottom-up system in the world).
Some French clearly misunderstood Mr Macron, expressing concern that the word “bottom” was perhaps a little too risqué for a head of state. Others confused it with “bottoms up”, the drinking term. Those who did follow his drift said that he was merely stating the “bleedin’ obvious” as democracy literally means “power from the people”.
In any case, the expression drew howls of protest from language purists.
Bernard Pivot, a former literary TV chat show host and self-styled defender of the French language, was appalled.
“This phrase devalues French-speaking democracy,” he lamented.
"La démocratie est le système le plus bottom up de la terre." E. Macron. Cette phrase dévalue la démocratie d'expression française.
— bernard pivot (@bernardpivot1) March 30, 2018
“Long live the French-speaking world,” retorted one online commentator. Another noted: “To defend one’s country starts by speaking its language, especially at the highest level.”
Another social media user clearly unhappy with Mr Macron’s habit of rushing through reforms by decree wrote: "I don’t find decrees very bottom-up."
A former investment banker, Mr Macron – whose wife Brigitte was a French teacher – has a penchant for anglicisms, recently telling businesses leaders at the Davos World Economic Forum that “France is back” – in English.
His entourage is fond of calling him “le boss”, speaks of France as “une start-up nation” and sings the praises of “le co-working” and “le brainstorming”. Volunteers, meanwhile are known as “les helpers”.
But Le Parisien asked: “Is this one anglicism too far?”
The controversy comes just two weeks after Mr Macron launched a concerted campaign to promote French as a “world language” and urged Francophone countries to resist the temptation to turn to English.
“France today should be proud of being one country among others that learns, speaks and writes in French,” he told guardians of the French language at the Académie Française. “French should become the language that creates tomorrow’s world.”
But he insisted that France should not be shut to other languages. On the contrary, he argued, it is important to demonstrate that French and English can coexist as major international tongues.
To prove his point, he gave a long interview on artificial intelligence to Wired magazine last Thursday entirely in English.
French is currently the world’s sixth most spoken language, with more French speakers outside France than within the country.