Monday, January 16, 2012


A few moments ago, a French friend posted on Facebook this query in English: "So, how does it feel to be a degraded country?" And I pointed out that it is unfortunate that the French translation of "downgraded" is "dégradé," which takes us from the language of bond traders to that of honor, as though France had been derelict in its duty and had its sword broken over its commander's knee.

This amusing anecdote unfortunately illustrates a larger truth: the tendency to moralize economic matters and to think in terms of dereliction and sin rather than better and worse choices among competing economic alternatives. The economic problem is difficult enough. Let's not compound it with an unnecessary overlay of virtue and vice.

As for France's "degradation," bond traders don't find it particularly humiliating. The price of French 10-yr bonds has barely flickered since the downgrading.


Massilian said...

the french translation for downgraded is not "dégradé" it is "rétrogradé" ou "déclassé" (See Collins, Harraps etc.). The french make a franglism when they translate downgraded by dégradé, but still I heard some proper translation using "rétrogradé". I confess that if was François Hollande I would probably indulge in the mistranslation too.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Good point, Massilian, and I have seen "rétrogradé" used by some, but you can read this in Le Monde today:
Sarkozy : la dégradation de la note de la France "ne change rien"

Mitch Guthman said...

Sauce for the goose. Not only is he saying "dégradé" now but but my memory is that several UMP officials, including Sarkozy himself, have previously used that word in advocating for their supposed reforms and austerity. My Google-fu is too weak for me to find it but I believe that Sarkozy and Fillon used the word "dégradation" when they were arguing that their polices were necessary to avoid a downgrade.

What I find most interesting about Sarkozy’s response to the downgrade is that he’s doubling down on the austerity even though (based on the S&P quote Krugman cites) the policies of austerity he is promoting were themselves apparently a significant part of the rationale for the downgrade. I think the fact that the policies he advocates were specifically cited by S&P as a reason for the downgrade has the potential to do Sarkozy some serious political damage.

bernard said...

Well, drawing on my old days on financial markets, I'd have to say that the sandard expression is indeed "dégradé" even if it is incorrect from a translator's point of view. Hollande invented nothing, that's the expression we always used in French in this context.

As for Sarkozy's lot, if they felt so strongly about it, they were free of course to not pile up an extra 600 Billion in debt inside 5 years while swearing that a 3A would not shrink to a 2A. In fact, even les andouillettes de Troyes have proved capable of understanding these simple facts as they stand firm on their 5A. I guess that, since l'Andouille de Vire passed away (RIP), our conservatives have not substantially improved.

Mitch Guthman said...

Interesting. Sarkozy may be saying « dégradation » but in the headline of the article announcing the downgrade of the bonds of the FESF, the copy editors of Le Monde seems to be thinking about the Massilian’s comment above because they say: « Après la France, S&P abaisse la note du FESF »

Anonymous said...

Given S&P's abysmally conflicted business model (see Krugman)I fail to see why anyone cares that S&P 'abaisse la note'.
Where is their credibility?