Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lost in translation

Apparently, the Confédération Générale du Travail no longer looks with favor on the word travailleur. The union now favors, not ouvrier, but salarié to describe the status of its members. This is bizarre in any number of ways, as the linked article points out. But the poor translator must now be on his guard: if travailleur becomes pejorative, can we translate salarié as "wage-earner," even though this has no especially pejorative connotation in English (though of course it's generally considered higher-status to receive a salary, which is not the same thing as un salaire (this is often a faux-ami, since English distinguishes between salary and wage: rémunération, appointements, émoluments might be better)? It rather grates on the ear in English. Economists distinguish between "hourly" workers (salariés) and "salaried" workers (whose pay is independent of the number of hours worked, and who are not exactly the same as cadres). Of course, in the United States, we have no "working class": everyone considers himself "middle class," so I suppose we have neither travailleurs, ouvriers, nor salariés but only bourgeois earning over $1m a year, which explains the otherwise puzzling support for tax cuts for the rich.

Perhaps the demise of travailleur began when il fallait travailler plus pour gagner plus. This was certainly a change from abolir le salariat. But the euphemisation of work has been going on for some time, at least since Auchan declared its clerks to be techniciens de surface. On the other hand, certain formerly despised professions sought to raise their status by claiming the privilege of labor: sex workers, intellectual workers. Or as non-commissioned officers used to tell me in the army when I mistakenly addressed one as "Sir," "Don't call me 'sir,' I work for a living." Work can be a badge of dignity and pride, except, it seems, chez la CGT.


It looks as though the new government has wasted no time in distributing benefits to people close to various ministers. In Franche-Comté, Nacer Meddah is out as prefect after only 7 months on the job, replaced by Christian Decharrière, the former chief of staff of Eric Besson (h/t Anonymous commenter). And at Inaglobal, Frédéric Martel, the founder, has been ousted only two months after the launch of the site by Frédéric Mitterrand's protégé, Mathieu Gallet, whose meteoric rise at the culture ministry has tongues wagging. Martel's replacement: Gallet himself!