At the End of the Day

If I may, I’d like to kick off tonight with a little franglais wordplay. It is now a century since the recording of the tune The Laughing Policeman, which – if you’ve never heard it – can be found here. I now present for your pleasure the gallic version, Le Flic qui Rit:

Orrhh-oh-hee-ho-hee-ho-ho hoheohehauur/ Orrhh-oh-hee-ho-hee-ho-ho hoheohehauur

Orrhh-oh-hee-ho-hee-ho-ho hoheohehauur/ Orrhh-oh-hee-ho-hee-ho-ho hoheohehauur

Orrhh-oh-hee-ho-hee-ho-ho hoheohehauur/ Orrhh-oh-hee-ho-hee-ho-ho hoheohehauur

Orrhh-oh-hee-ho-hee-ho-ho hoheohehauur/ Orrhh-oh-hee-ho-hee-ho-ho hoheohehauur

This gag is dedicated to Let’s Parler Franglais, a fine work by the late and much lamented Miles Kington, and its French equivalent Sky My Husband by the inimitable Jean-Loup Chiflet. But it is little more than the overture to what I hope shall be an engaging wander through the history of the English language.

Very often when talking to foreigners about English, I am accused (on account of my undying love of it) of being chauvinist. My reply is usually twofold: first, M. Chauvin was a Frog not a Rosbif; and second, this self-invented parody of Winston Churchill’s famous assertion from 1940:

“Never in the field of human conflict have so many foreigners invaded so few British islanders to so much linguistic gain”

Around the time of the infamous Nazarene crucifixion, the greatest crucifying empire of all – Rome – made two known visits to Britannica, leaving behind a legacy of anally straight roads, underfloor central heating, and Latin.

Following this, Danish Vikings and other assorted Norsemen spent many a pillage-fest here, and (it is rumoured) a few Hun tribes also ventured into the South East on their way back home after having a crack at conquering South West France.

Some thousand or more years after the Roman excursions, the one vrai conquéreur Guillaume of Normandy arrived on our shores, poked the pretender Harold in the eye, and began to write doom-laden books, as well as insisting that Anglo-Saxon as a language be enriched by Normande.

In point of fact, William the Conqueror was no more French than Boris Johnson – a fact illustrated by the insistence within eighty years from Froggies back home that William’s heirs and land-grabbers needed to make their minds up as to whether they were French or English. Over the next three hundred years, the response of England’s rulers was to reinvade bits of France and annexe them. Such are the dangers of mouthing off, and the wisdom of the advice, “Ferme ta gueul”.

My point here is very simple: there is no island of comparable size anywhere in the Western World that has been a melting-pot of verbal expression to the degree that Britain has been since 55 BC. Our language is unique in having Scandinavian, German, Gaelic, Latin and Normande-French origins. It is this diversity that created the English language’s infuriating irregularity, huge numbers of double consonants, and even greater obfuscation of doubles entendres. From this unequalled mélange came the pun: by no means an English invention – Roman graffiti from Pompeii and elsewhere prove otherwise – but nevertheless the single most baffling feature of English for foreigners.

That bewilderment applies even to the American equivalent of English. “The horse-man knew her” if spoken quickly can sound like “the horse-manure”. Generations of Americans have returned home from visits to the British Isles to tell their friends that the punch-line of this joke is – inexplicably – “horseshit”. “Go figure” say their friends…unaware that this and other American phraseology has in turn been absorbed by the original host country.

Way back at the mediaeval output of Chaucer, the complication and ribaldry of English was already well established. Shakespeare took over and perfected the art of making our language impenetrable to foreigners (as well as indigenous schoolchildren in later centuries) but it wasn’t until Dickens that the use of character names in the novel morphed into something that only British nationals could really grasp.

Dickens’s names not only utilised the multi-source nature of English (Mrs Malaprop), they also introduced the multiple-meaning and onomatapaeic expression of surnames like Twist, Sykes, Scrooge, Gradgrind and Drood.

The insouciant manner in which crypto-scientific Thatcherite Conservative and modernism obsessed Blairite Labour ministers set about their task of declaring Latin, Chaucer, Shakespeare and obligatory French teaching in schools “no longer relevant” tells anyone half-awake all they’d ever need to know about the patronising view these idiots held of the yeoman class of Britain.

Like all those who would unconsciously replace a civilisation with an oligarchy, such “leaders” have grown a barabarian culture which – while fancifully soi-disant multicultural – is in reality ignorant beyond belief…and a total betrayal of our genuine multicultural inheritance.

But despite these last paragraphs of regret, I remain that celebrator of Franglais. For if Churchill called the British and Americans “two nations separated by a common language”, I would venture to suggest that the British and French are two nations joined at the hip by a linguistic commonality they seem unable to recognise.

Alors, san ferry Anne: c’est le weekend.

Earlier at The Slog: wash out the weather, wash in the pervs