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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: Israel-Palestine War

If Iran Truly Fears A Regional War, It May Just Ditch Hamas

Iran's revolutionary regime insists it wants Israel destroyed and has threatened a regional war, but its actions are ambivalent, suggesting it prefers intrigue to a war that might hasten its demise.

A veiled woman waves a Palestinian flag during a pro-hijab and pro-government gathering in downtown Tehran

At a pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran on Nov. 2

Hamed Mohammadi

Updated Nov. 10, 2023 at 7:15 p.m.


Urban warfare is an ugly mess even for high-tech armies, yet after weeks of bombing Hamas targets, Israel believed it had no choice but to invade Gaza and expose its troops to just this type of fighting. It is the only way of flushing out Hamas, it says, which has decided to fight Israel amid the wreckage of Gazan homes, schools and clinics.

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Meanwhile, attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East by similar militias working in coordination with the Iranian regime have become a headache for the Biden administration, which is seen by some as taking a soft line with the Tehran. The administration insists there is no hard evidence yet of Iranian involvement in Hamas's attack on Israel on October 7, though it has hardened its tone, warning Tehran not to pour "fuel on fire."

As for the European Union, it remains cautious about listing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as terrorists, even if in September the NATO parliamentary assembly advised members of the alliance to list them as such and aid the democratic aspirations of ordinary Iranians.

Whatever the details, the war in Gaza is intimately connected to the Iranian regime and its modus operandi.

Its officials have warned that the Gaza offensive, if continued, would open new fronts against Israel. The regime's foreign minister, Hussein Amirabdullahian, vowed Gaza would become an Israeli "graveyard" if its troops invaded, while the head of the Revolutionary guards, Hussein Salami, compared the strip to a "dragon" that would "devour" the invaders.

But so far we have seen nothing of Iran's more dramatic threats, made soon after the October attack, including the West Bank joining with Gaza or the Lebanese Hezbollah firing off 150,000 rockets. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, while insisting Iran had nothing to do with the Hamas assault, urged regional states to starve Israel of fuel. That too has yet to happen.

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