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.
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
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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