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.