March 02, 2002
Pedantry Alert II: 'Terribles Simplificateurs'

Another pretentious phrase from the not-so-distant past is the French for 'terrible simplifiers', devised by Jacob Burkhardt in 1889 and used as a putdown by Euroweenies and their American sympathizers throughout the Reagan years to describe Reagan in particular and Americans in general. A Google search finds 104 hits. Even then I thought there ought to be an opposite to describe the Chris Pattens of the day: 'terribles complicateurs', or however one would say it in French. (I get exactly one Google hit for that phrase, and the site is in German. Does a Googlewhack count if it's inadvertent?) There are certainly plenty of people insisting that the problems of the world, and in particular the difficulties of waging war on Islamofascism, are far too complex to solve, or even to attempt to solve, so we shouldn't even bother. The need for an accurate and concise phrase to describe these awful people is even more urgent now than it was twenty years ago.

Unfortunately, it is not so simple. I have consulted expert advice, a French professor I'll call 'Dr. Johnson' in honor of his erudition. He tells me that 'terribles complicateurs' is bad French, that there is no French word for 'complicator' and that the only way to express the concept would be a very roundabout "des gens qui s'obstinent à rafistoler des explications alambiquées" or perhaps "des arguments alambiqués". That certainly explains a lot about the French! Not to mention American academics who spend too much time reading French thinkers. Perhaps the Académie Française could come up with something if we asked them nicely. After all, a language with an authoritative body in charge of it ought to be easy enough to change.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at March 02, 2002 10:20 PM