Wednesday, January 31, 2007

francais or françaises - there is no françai.

I came across some phrasing used in one of today's AP Wire stories that really bothered me:

"Fifty-six percent of French complain that a poor night's sleep has affected their job performance, according to the ministry." (full article)

The offending phrase was "Fifty-six percent of French". Does that sound awkward to anyone else but me? I understand the reasoning behind shortening "Frenchmen" to "French" - we wouldn't want to offend any Frenchwomen out there - but, come on. This makes it look like the journalist reporting this article has issues with his or her parts of speech. I think that decisions like this, on whether or not to politically correct an adjective of nationality in use for hundreds of years, should be based on what the official language of that nationality dictates. The decision would be clear in French: francais or françaises - there is no françai. How ridiculous! "French" in this context looks as silly to me as françai does. The French themselves clearly say either "Frenchmen" or "Frenchwomen", so why are we changing our wording? You can't just say "French", you have to put an article in front of it to make it general. That's the only way that the adjective can be truncated inoffensively! As I have been told countless times by one of my favorite French professors, "La langue française est très precise." - phrasing is specific for a reason (or deliberately ambiguous for a reason). Problems such as this are accepted as an inherited problem of language and would ruin the turn of phrase to switch out the accepted form of a word.

The same problem probably exists for other adjectives that follow this pattern in English, such as "Dutchmen"...sometimes I wish we had our own guardians of language, just like the French do, so issues like these could be dealt with directly instead of the AP and NY Times starting trends and waiting for the major dictionaries to keep up and legitimize their stupid variations with actual entries.