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The Meaning Of Macron’s Special "Merde" Delivery For The Unvaccinated

The French President used a rather vulgar verb to tell us how he feels about those who refuse to get the COVID vaccine. It’s a linguistic and political stink bomb with a message that has a history of its own.

The Meaning Of Macron’s Special "Merde" Delivery For The Unvaccinated

The French president at a news conference in Brussels

Rozena Crossman

In the rich and intricate French language, merde has a special place. The not-quite-profane word for "shit" is used across society, in a variety of circumstances with a range of meanings. You might blurt it out in anger or frustration, or offer consolation, or even wish someone "merde" as good luck.

Beginning in the 15th century the prefix em, meaning "bring into," and the suffix er, which creates a verb, were added to expand merde into a most unhygienic term: literally translated as "to cover in excrement." Today, emmerder is a crude and handy slang used to mean "to bore," "to annoy," "to bother."

Needless to say, all forms of merde have been applied to describe how COVID-19 is making francophones feel. In an article this week for the Paris-based daily Les Echos, philosopher Gaspard Koenig invoked a term coined in the 1970s by then French President Georges Pompidou, micro-emmerdements, to criticize some of the current restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.

Health pass required to enter a hospital in France

Marie Le Ble/ZUMA

The new rules, these "micro-emmerdements"

These "micro-hassles," which in the France state has stood out for its paternalistic heavy hand since the first lockdown in 2020, have include plenty of obnoxious, hypocritical protocols that allow customers to take off their masks in restaurants but ban the consumption of food or drink on six-hour-long train rides. To get to the linguistic essence of Koenig’s argument: these rules are rather shitty.

But emmerder made it into headlines around the world this week for another reason: French President Emmanuel Macron used it in an interview with newspaper Le Parisien to describe how he felt about citizens who refuse to get vaccinated — and what he planned to do about it. His precise words were “les non-vaccinés, j’ai très envie de les emmerder,” meaning he really wants to make life unpleasant for the non-vaccinated. That may include banning them outright from all bars, restaurants and trains, or who knows what other micro-emmerdements Macron may have in mind.

France has spent the past week debating the political intentions of its President (who is up for reelection in May) in using such an aggressive expression — or the actual effect on trying to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Either way, the spirit of the showdown is reminiscent of the famous Monty Python sketch where a French knight tells his adversaries, "I fart in your general direction."

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Will Winter Crack The Western Alliance In Ukraine?

Kyiv's troops are facing bitter cold and snow on the frontline, but the coming season also poses longer term political questions for Ukraine's allies. It may be now or never.

Ukraine soldier in winer firing a large canon with snow falling

Ukraine soldier firing a large cannon in winter.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — Weather is a weapon of war. And one place where that’s undoubtedly true right now is Ukraine. A record cold wave has gripped the country in recent days, with violent winds in the south that have cut off electricity of areas under both Russian and Ukrainian control. It's a nightmare for troops on the frontline, and survival itself is at stake, with supplies and movement cut off.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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This is the reality of winter warfare in this part of Europe, and important in both tactical and strategic terms. What Ukraine fears most in these circumstances are Russian missile or drone attacks on energy infrastructures, designed to plunge civilian populations into cold and darkness.

The Ukrainian General Staff took advantage of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's visit to Kyiv to ask the West to provide as many air defense systems as possible to protect these vital infrastructures. According to Kyiv, 90% of Russian missile launches are intercepted; but Ukraine claims that Moscow has received new weapon deliveries from North Korea and Iran, and has large amounts of stocks to strike Ukraine in the coming weeks.

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