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Shut up and keep quiet

As you may know, right after Powell's speech to the Security Council, ten Central and Eastern European countries released a statement in support of the US. At an EU meeting on the 18th, French President Jacques Chirac complained about their support in general and this statement in particular. He was harsh enough to say that they had "missed a good opportunity to shut up." But then I noticed that a different website quoted him as, "...they missed a good opporutnity to keep quiet." Hm!

So they were obviously independent translations from French, but which was right? At first I thought this was another example of biased journalism, but just as I was about to look into which sites used which translation, I noticed that the BBC was carrying one article with "shut up" and another article with "keep quiet". So I decided it was probably just a very ambiguous term to translate. I asked Sarah, one of Nile's bridesmaids, for help. She's currently living in Paris. Here was her response:

So, here is the quotation, in French.

"Donc je crois qu'ils ont manqué une bonne occasion de se taire", a dit le président français. (From Le Monde newspaper, 18/02/03)

Literally, I would translate it as "they missed a good opportunity to not say anything". However, there isn't really a polite, politician way of saying "shut up" in French. So, depending on the tone, I would say either translation stands. Given the context of the speech, I would say that it was probably more on the "shut up" level. That's the problem with these subtle languages!

So, there you go.

Here's a Le Monde article I found, btw. I still don't know French, but I just searched for "de se taire". :)

Translation is so fun, even when I don't know one of the languages! I guess it didn't matter much in this case, since "they missed a good opportunity to keep quiet" is still quite the insult anyway, but I can definitely see this sort of thing subtly shaping public opinion. Of course, some "newspapers" aren't so subtle.

Comments (3)

I hate to be so easily swayed by the opinions of others, but I must confess feeling an immediate reduction in my anti-war sentiments after reading about these 10 countries who support the U.S. Also, the whole appeasement issue and comparisons with Hitler have made me rethink the issue. If war happened and a number of countries got involved, who would take Iraq's side? Is there a danger of WWIII?

Also - what about your policy of protecting the innocent by leaving off last names? =P I'm sure Sarah doesn't mind, but since I just read an article or two on the verb "to google" I thought I'd point it out in case it was an oversight...

To be really cynical about it, I think this is in large part a power struggle. Note that the 10 countries who signed that thing are all former Soviet bloc countries struggling to improve their economies, so they have a lot to gain by supporting the U.S. On the other hand, France and Germany want to assert the independence and don't like the idea of the U.S. being in control of everything.

One of my British coworkers actually said that he's against the U.S. doing whatever it feels like, and he thinks Europe needs to build up its military so it can "pursue its own agenda".

I refer you to my recent post. :P

As for the last name, that was before I had photos up, and I wanted to give her credit. Good point. I'm fixing that. :)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 20, 2003.

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