petite anglaise

February 7, 2005

attack of the colon?

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:38 pm

The CSA (French broadcasting watchdog), which counts among its missions the responsibility for protecting and regulating the use of French on television and radio, has requested that television channels make more of an effort to give their shows French titles. If an English title is used, the CSA recommends an accompanying translation into French.

This is the latest manifestation of a futile ongoing battle against la surabondance de termes anglais ou anglicisés à la télévision et à la radio. In the firing line are a whole host of mostly Endemol-produced reality TV shows with names like ‘Star Academy’, ‘Loft Story’, ‘Popstars’ and ‘Fear factor’.

Oddly these do not have the same English names as their UK/US equivalents. ‘Star Academy’ is known as ‘Fame Academy’ in the UK. ‘Loft Story’ was the French version of ‘Big Brother’ (after three seasons of ever-declining ratings the format was scrapped and consigned to the audiovisual graveyard, although Loana – the pneumatic bimbo who got laid in the swimming pool during the first week of season one – seems to be a permanent feature of the Paysage Audivisuel Français).

Are we about to see a new tendancy emerging in French programme naming – the Attack of the Colon? Star Academy: l’Ecole des vedettes? Fear factor: le facteur de la peur? An amusing article in Libération points out that the literal translation of “Loft Story’ would give us the following catchy title: ‘Loft Story: Une histoire de local a usage commercial ou industriel amenage en local d’habitation’.

Probably not. The CSA is not actually planning to use its power to sanction TV production companies who do not toe the line. TF1 have already made a statement to the effect that Star Academy, the show responsible for inflicting Jennifer and Nolwenn on the French pop music scene, will not undergo a name change.

The English titling phenomenon is not limited to made-in-France reality/junk TV shows. Quality programmes imported from the USA tend to be broadcast nowadays using their original titles. ‘Nip/Tuck’, ‘Six Feet Under’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’ (coming soon on Canal+) are examples which immediately spring to mind. Personally, I’m thankful for this, as if they had been renamed I probably wouldn’t have noticed they were on at all. It took me long enough to work out that ‘Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir’ = ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Deux Flics à Miami” = ‘Miami vice’.

If these programs had been re-baptised, I suspect the result would have looked something like this:

Nip/Tuck – Les Docteurs Troy et McNamara: chirurgiens esthétiques
Six Feet Under – La famille Fisher: entrepreneurs de pompes funèbres

Unimaginative indeed, but you only have to look at the number of French programmes in circulation featuring the name/job title of the protagonist in their title (‘Les Cordier, juge et flic’, ‘L’instit’, ‘Navarro’) to see a pattern emerging.

The CSA is worried that the use of English words in TV programme titles devalues French language and culture, making programmes with French titles seem inferior or old-fashioned in comparison.

Personally, I can’t help thinking that the CSA is missing the point. Perhaps more attention needs to be paid to the quality of French TV production itself, and not simply the language of titles. Why are so many shows and reality TV formats being imported, I wonder? Could it possibly be *whispers* that home-grown productions are actually Not Very Good?


  1. The anglicisation is, of course, not limited to TV programmes. When I lived in France, “Crunchy Nut cornflakes” (completely self-explanatory in English) were known as “Cracky Nut” – so meaningless in French that they needed a “subtitle” of “petales de maïs au miel et cacahuètes…” (or whatever)

    I believe they’ve now renamed them “Crunchy Nut” – equally meaningless, I suspect.

    My favourite breakfast cereal was called “Cropsy Fruit”. What could it mean?


    Comment by witho — February 7, 2005 @ 1:03 pm

  2. I always found it so strange that so much of French television was dubbed (usually from English, but sometimes from German – I would wonder why this show didn’t look familiar until the credits rolled and they were all named Helmut or something). Why don’t they make anything of their own? Actually, I’ve seen Sous le Soleil or whatever it is, so maybe it’s best if they stick with imports.

    Comment by srah — February 7, 2005 @ 1:22 pm

  3. You’ve been voicing my deepest, secretest thoughts again. Though only in a televisual sense, clearly. And on the subject of cereal, Special K in France is certainly not the same as the UK variety…

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — February 7, 2005 @ 1:25 pm

  4. They could definitely save us a lot of unnecessary debate by not worrying about the titles and just scrapping the programmes themsleves.

    On the food-related theme, when I first came to France, Twix chocolate bars were for some strange reason called “Raider” (probably mis-pronounced ;-)). As for cereal, Choco Pops have recently been transformed into Coco Pops and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why they went to all the trouble.

    Comment by Iain — February 7, 2005 @ 1:37 pm

  5. Naturally, we British never had a problem with “Allo Allo”.


    Comment by Scaryduck — February 7, 2005 @ 1:37 pm

  6. I don’t know about quality of french vs. imported programs. It is true France has a lot of imports, mainly US, which is a shame,considering good UK progs like Green Wings, Shameless, and so on. Maybe the great brit sense of humour is just not translatable(?).
    But one thing does really annoy me: when I go home and notice so many anglicisms in magazines. There is always a better way to say it it French, but they keep on sticking bits of english in the text. No matter if the lambda 20 or 30 something doesn’t get their point [sometimes the word usage is just plain wrong]. Each time I come across one of those, I want to shout. Because it screams “try-hard”.

    Another strange thing [but the other way round]: a new english designer clothes label called “La petite salope”. the daily telepgraph Sunday mag. translated it as “little tart”. hmpf… I know I won’t wear anything with that sticking out the back…

    Comment by mimile — February 7, 2005 @ 2:46 pm

  7. Ah, this post has brought back fond memories. During my long-ago six-month stint in Aix-en-Provence (part of my year abroad while studying for a Modern Languages degree) I bought a big bright orange second hand telly in an attempt to soak up as much language as possible (it was the only way I could think of, other than actually starting to go to any lectures, which would have been unthinkable). I spent the whole time watching dubbed episodes of the Avengers (I remember also being amused by the title!). I don’t remember watching any home-grown shows at all (unless you count the French Open tennis) and as a result to this day speak fluent, if slightly stilted French, while moving my lips in English, and wearing a bowler hat.

    Comment by jonathan — February 7, 2005 @ 2:51 pm

  8. Actually, the “official” title of Six Feet Under seems to be “Six Pieds Sous Terre,” at least according to France 22. although I think on Canal+, it is just Six Feet Under. Our friends just loaned us the first season on DVD, and it also just says Six Feet Under. Confusion.

    I agree though that french programming is just pathetic. There is some series that was on M6 recently called something like “Thom et Léo, flics et jumeaux.” Not only is the premise incredibly stupid, but they couldn’t even be bothered to find a title that could possibly intrigue people to watch it!

    Although I do say, the french does do those “report-style” programmings rather well (I have taken a liking to Ca se Discute, alas).

    Comment by kim — February 7, 2005 @ 3:01 pm

  9. Ah yes, this reminds me of that time when they wanted to ban such phrases as ‘Hot Dog’ and so on. The big joke was they would do a direct translation to ‘Chien Chaud’, which just cracked me up!
    Iain:Twix’s are still called Raider in most Scandinavian countries, AFAIK…

    Comment by Chris Boot — February 7, 2005 @ 3:02 pm

  10. Well before I moved to England I thought there were too many English words in our languages but the fact is that the english languages has got lots of French expression and words and most of the time for nice things.
    About the fact that they (we) want to change the name of reality show, I think the best thing is just to get rid a big part of them and keep some for the time we dion t have anything to watch on tv and we don t want to think. Because with or without an english title it s full of crap.
    French TV is really good for report style programs, as Envoye Special, Ca se Discute, Zone Interdite…and are often an open access to society issue in an understable way for everybody.
    Without criticizing English people I think young French people are more aware of the issues in the society, because of these programs. I think there are lots of subject that should be treated in the UK (drugs, alcoolism, teenage pregnancy, incest and paedophilia, pride of your country, pride of yourself…) which would help to avoid so many trouble.
    Knowledge is power.
    Anyway I think that wasn t the subject of the article
    I think protecting our culture is a good thing, but we shouldn t exagerate. For example I think the measures taken to oblige radio to play a minimum of 40% of French Music is a good thing, asking the media to use more french expression is another good thing but not abolishing the use of other languages.
    I m not sure my English and my speech is really clear but I hope people will get most of it

    Comment by Jak — February 7, 2005 @ 3:29 pm

  11. I do think France has some great talk shows and comedy things, even if they’ve never managed to handle the sitcom! I loved “Tout le monde en parle” and the series of TV shorts “Un gars et une fille” that was on several years ago. Don’t know if it’s still on…

    But I also thought La Tour Montparnasse Infernale was a cinematic masterpiece, so never mind me and my humour. :grin:

    Comment by srah — February 7, 2005 @ 4:13 pm

  12. Un gars et une fille was really great… alas, it stopped last year (with the marriage of the two characters). I watched it every day.

    While Camera Café wasn’t my thing either, a lot of people are fond of it. But I must admit, those six-minute mini-sitcoms are probably one of the television things that the french do best.

    Comment by kim — February 7, 2005 @ 4:38 pm

  13. mmmm. Not sure about things like Ca se discute. I cringe. Envoyé Special does a lot of scaremongering, and capital seems designed to make you jealous of just about everyone else (who seems to be earning more than you are). IMHO.

    I like Lundi Investigation, 90 minutes and +clair… and the 2 minute thing on Canal where you see lives of different people in a high rise block which is actually quite funny (cannot remember the name).

    Comment by petite — February 7, 2005 @ 5:03 pm

  14. srah – La Tour Montparnasse Infernale was a cinematic masterpiece … so funny, in the way that only the French could possibly pull off! I saw it in Quebec, where the Canadians clearly didn’t have a clue how to react to it!

    As for Francofied(?) TV shows – my favourite has to be Les Experts: Crime Scene Investigation – because CSI: Crime Scene Investigation just wouldn’t make sense…

    Comment by dafyd — February 7, 2005 @ 5:03 pm

  15. With my buillingual friends we used to make up a game where you would try to guess how the French or the Italians would have translated/massacred that movie title. Sometimes we’ve got hillarious title names that had no connection whatsover with the original title. But the scarriest thing was to go back to France and realise that they have been using titles that are even more ridiculous. Same goes for all the dozens of English titles one Japanese or Chinese film can have.

    But all in all dubbing, outside of Holand and Scandinavia, is an economical necessity as it is the way local French, German, Italian, etc.. actors make most of their money. UK actors already have it tough unless they leave to the US like Minnie Driver and her sis did. Imagine what it is for German or French actors who are maybe offered one good role in one good film every 5 years. Most of the time they have to do voice over jobs, some can survive by doing theater, and a lot get only jobs for those god awful French or German TV-Dramas.

    So without dubbing, there would be no jobs for European actors. They would be like their peers in Blighty forced to immigrate to Hollowood. Except that have you ever heard a French actor speaking English? OUCH!

    As for anglicismes. In some fields like marketing or IT the French or the Germans love them, except that these are words which just don’t mean squat in English. So I’m having a very very tough time re-adapting to French professional life and trying to not offend them by pretending to ignore their crap anglicism fade and their god awfull English. I did work for the European Space Agency and Eumetsat. Now, I’m not a yank/brit making fun of the French, I ‘m a European (French) comparing France with the rest of Europe and realising that there is a huge widening gap between France and the rest of Europe (the political and executive Europe). And one of these days France will just be way behind everyone else in Europe that it will have to split away from it to survive unless it adapts.

    Comment by Gamera — February 7, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

  16. In the year and a half that I’ve been here, I’ve come to realise that the majority of homegrown French TV is rubbish.

    Things like Camera Cafe, les Guignols and the like are not bad; but as you mentioned, the news/discussion programmes are pretty much the best things available.

    Except for “Confessions de ma vie” or whatever it’s called, that seems to focus solely on people with loud dysfunctional children.

    La Methode Cauet can also be ok if you like a combination of Jonathan Woss and Shooting Stars.

    Comment by Ribby — February 7, 2005 @ 5:41 pm

  17. (For the record, “Un gars, une fille” was imported from Canada – unlike Caméra café, which is original.)

    I think the main reason why French TV fiction is so lame could be that the French movie industry has always been strong in the last decades (I don’t know if it’s because of quality or subventions, but that’s beside the point). Working for TV is still considered sub-artistic, and as a result the best writers, directors and actors stay away from it. And that gives “Sous le soleil”.
    I might be mistaken, but I think the British movie industry, on the contrary, has had some rought times in recent history, prompting talented artists to move to TV.
    (In the US, the situation is different: the territory is huge, and the know they’ll export most of their productions, so they can afford big budgets and salaries.)

    Oh, and I can’t wait to see how people will pronounce “Desperate housewives”. That’s gonna be fun.

    Comment by garoo — February 7, 2005 @ 5:46 pm

  18. Last summer, Steph and I had a very lively discussion about the tv shows we watched when we were kids. All of the American shows he watched had different titles, so we had to either sing the theme song or try to describe the show. It was really a fun conversation! The other bizarre thing is that he knew a lot of shows from the 50’s and 60’s that were never syndicated, so he was talking about programs that my parents knew and I’d never heard before!

    Comment by ViVi — February 7, 2005 @ 5:50 pm

  19. One of my treasured possessions, now lost, was Jack Allgood’s Dictionary of Franglais. Jacques Toubon was briefly Minister of Culture (under the equally brief passage of Edith Cresson, I think) in the 90s and made a laughing stock of himself by insisting on the most ludicrous literal translations. The dictionary contained gems such as, “Garcon, un ecossais sur des rochers, s’il vous plait!” and “Eh, c’est de la bonne merde, j’suis completement pierre”.

    I always thought Nulle part ailleurs was a pretty innovative show for the early evening, and les guignols remained sharp long after Spitting Image lost its teeth.

    The head of TF1 admitted last year that commercial television was merely a softening up of the brain to prepare the viewer for the ads. No surprise there…

    Comment by Ria — February 7, 2005 @ 8:29 pm

  20. Extrapolate that thought – when you see sweatshirts etc with writing on them – especially in Japanese or chinese script – What is it saying ? having seen asians wearing shirts with bad eng:smile:lish translations I wonder what those idiographs on the back of my latest shirt mean ?

    Comment by Mystic Mog — February 7, 2005 @ 9:43 pm

  21. Ria – I’ve got a that book, I’m sure! Not sure it’s exactly the same, but it’s definitely got the “écossais sur les rochers” example in it…

    Comment by witho — February 7, 2005 @ 10:19 pm

  22. This is pretty ridiculous. I understand the need to preserve the French language, but rough translations of American sitcoms doesn’t seem to be the answer.

    Growing up I spent my summers with the French half of my family. Like any American kid, I craved TV, so I was happy to watch the badly dubbed version of the early 90s teen show Blossom, which was translated as “La Petite Fleur.” As this is both the character’s name, as well as the show’s title, other characters were forced to interact, not with Blossom, but with “La Petite Fleur.” Totally ridiculous. I’m hoping the French will find some happy medium. I know they will, the French are always more comfortable in the grey area.

    Comment by NewYorkDely — February 7, 2005 @ 10:24 pm

  23. I had a strong sense of déjà vu when reading this post. I was just saying yesterday that I think the CSA, far from being the enfant terrible of French society, are the just guardians of the French language. Indeed the English speaking world’s own laissez-faire attitude to linguistic purity causes me much anguish. I know it’s de rigeur in our era of fin de siècle craziness to adopt words from other languages BUT THIS IS SOMETHING I WILL NEVER DO. There is a certain je ne sais quoi to be derived from speaking English in its pure form; a joie de vivre arising from the satisfaction of knowing you’re right (just like the CSA must feel).

    I fear, however, that this will never be a cause célèbre as the bastardization of English appears to be a fait accompli. Oh well, maybe the bourgeois should simply be given carte blanche to do whatever they like to the language.

    Comment by BHR — February 8, 2005 @ 3:39 am

  24. wow. bhr just used every common french phrase used in the english language…
    it brings up an interesting point— do average french people care about the english language invasion? i don’t think any americans would care that they understood all the common french phrases in the previous comment. is english more pervasive in french culture?


    Comment by henry — February 8, 2005 @ 8:46 am

  25. ‘Twilight Zone’ became ‘La quatrième dimension’.
    There are also movie titles which are bizarrely translated. Take Ken Loach’s ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, which was translated as ‘Just a kiss’… Sometimes, they don’t even bother like in ‘The French Connexion’

    Comment by Claude — February 8, 2005 @ 8:49 am

  26. I do some translating in the aviation industry, where virtually every term from aileron through fuselage to – well, you get the idea – is French in origin, due to their domination in the field when it began. It just so happens that the US lead the way in the media (in numbers terms), so their vocabulary sticks. I still like the French term Internaut instead of “Web user/surfer” though…

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — February 8, 2005 @ 9:20 am

  27. The problem is they are so keen on protecting the French language and dubbing everything, which means that when the French need to go out in the world and speak English they have no idea what every body else is talking about and often have no idea how words are pronounced! Look at Scandinavia: everything is in “version originale” subtitled, and these guys speak English the best in Europe (well after the anglophones naturally). Protection of the language is good but plain obtuse paranoid conservatism is wrong.

    Comment by Zebulette — February 8, 2005 @ 9:31 am

  28. Hi! (Newbie here)

    I’m all for the exception culturelle. Without the radio quotas for instance, many rock bands and singers that have emerged in the last 5-6 years would have never seen the light of day. Not because they weren’t good enough, but because they couldn’t have competed economically with the US/Brit bands in the eyes of the Majors.

    I do think actors themselves here would be against stopping the dubbing of foreign shows, it’s a source of income they can’t afford to lose. However, there IS enough opportunity to hear spoken English when you want to. Most cable/satellite channels offer both dubbed and subbed airings for movies and shows. DVD rentals also offer the possibility to listen to the subbed version. Parisians/Suburbians have easy access to VOs at the movie theaters. Not so long ago, cinéphiles and anglophiles worshipped the altar of Canal Plus, the first channel to offer subbed versions (beside the B&W oldies shown during the cinéma de minuit).I don’t mind that the chaînes hertziennes only air dubbed versions (well, except when they have an exclusive airing right on a show I really want to see, :sad:), they’re trying to reach the widest audience.

    I’m more concerned about French kids learning English from the web. As a matter of fact, I’m most concerned about French kids learning French from the web. Surfing certain forums makes the anal retentive in me weep for my mother tongue. I actually forbade an American friend of mine to visit those places, telling her she’d never be able to learn proper French from such places. As for English, I had no idea that Americans/Brits could misspell words and bastardize grammar until I started surfing the web. I was shocked! :shock: :mrgreen:

    Comment by tazey — February 8, 2005 @ 11:44 am

  29. I think Zebulette has made an interesting point there. The French seem to know a lot of English (compared to the English knowing French) but the pronunciation is where they suffer, in my experience.

    You have to hear a language to be able to speak it really convincingly…

    The best pronouncers of English are, in my experience, Scandinavians and Dutch.

    Comment by witho — February 8, 2005 @ 11:49 am

  30. Any chance of a(n internationl) law requiring that at least 10% of TV programming be watchable?

    Comment by reachy — February 8, 2005 @ 12:10 pm

  31. You raise an interesting point. English programmes would benefit from this approach to inform the unwary viewer of what is in store. Thus:

    Wife Swap: Smug viewing for Daily Mail readers
    How clean is your house: who cares?
    10 years younger: and £20,000 later
    Taggart: He’s not in it

    Comment by Vernon Grope: Vedette du rock — February 8, 2005 @ 12:46 pm

  32. Did anyone notice that ‘Bridget Jones – The Edge of Reason’ was translated ‘Bridget Jones – L’age de Raison’? Now that isn’t EVEN a translation – the two phrases have opposite meanings.
    Or what about the Coca Cola advertising campaign last year ‘Coke up to you’. What in the world is that supposed to mean? Coke up to you. Ridiculous. I got in an argument with my belle-soeur trying to explain to her that it didn’t make sense. And she is an English professor.
    What is the use of the CSA telling the French to translate if the translators can’t even get it right. I am bilingual (American living in France) and I cringe when I hear radio shows or other with simultaneous translation. The problem in France is not too much English, rather it is the opposite.
    In northern Europe the television shows themselve are in English, resulting in the majority of the population being bilingual.

    Comment by Sammy — February 8, 2005 @ 3:41 pm

  33. Henry: No, the average French person doesn’t care at all, and that’s why some old farts in the government think their divine mission is to protect the language against everyone else.
    One or two centuries ago, France used to be a colonial power, French used to be the one language you had to speak if you wanted to be classy, and the people who have a hard time forgetting about that happen to be the same people who work their way up into the government.

    Tazey: radio quotas privilege songs sung in French, without any consideration as to where the song was produced, or the band’s nationality. That’s not a way to help new artists — that’s a way to force them to sing in French.

    Sammy: “The edge of reason” being a pun, what’s the point of translating it literally, when without the pun it doesn’t mean anything anymore? There’s an awful lot to be said about title translations, but I think in that case they were right.
    (Nip/Tuck episodes, for example: somehow they thought patient names weren’t good enough, so they wrote plain descriptive –spoilerish– titles. Oh, and with meaningless slashes in the middle, too. Argh.)

    Comment by garoo — February 8, 2005 @ 5:16 pm

  34. Yes, ‘The Edge of Reason’ is a pun but ‘The Age of Reason’ is not only NOT a pun but it means the opposite. That’s all I meant. Anyhoo whadaya say for Coke up to you?

    Comment by Sammy — February 8, 2005 @ 5:25 pm

  35. Cynical, rich, uncreative Coked up nasties at TF1 probably called it Star Academy because everybody in France can understand what it means with no great strain. However TF1’s new imported and adapted hit show called ‘Compagnie’ is a million kilometres away from the original’Boot Camp’ title. That they certainly would not get, oh no.
    How many people have asked you what ‘Queer’ since it became the title of the tv show?
    And what the tired peanut brains at the ad agencies who think its clever to crank out another film of a car in an unlikely American desert/Moonscape/Manhattan filmed in lookalike Toronto, backdrop and then set it to Brit/US music bearing absolutely no relation to the pictures. Jimi Hendrix must have turned in his grave to know his genius is being used to sell very ordinary Renaults.
    And don’t you just love it when star news presenter Claire Chazal drops the appropriately grave tones used to interview would-be presidents , tell us about masssacres, blights and masss murders to turn to the upcoming Star Ac’ which we can enjoy if we stay tuned to TF1 cos it’ll be on immediately after 20 minutes of ads where you see boring Renaults crossing Mad Max desolation to a catchy old American/Brit song – Yes , I’m repeating myself ranting like this but………I’m taking some pretty strong cough medecine and ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

    Comment by Parkin Pig — February 8, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

  36. Sammy: well, then it’s an ironic title :) I still think it works.
    As for “Coke up to you”, uh… that’s the first time I read that. I guess I don’t watch the right channels :)

    Comment by garoo — February 8, 2005 @ 7:59 pm

  37. Garoo said: radio quotas privilege songs sung in French, without any consideration as to where the song was produced, or the band’s nationality. That’s not a way to help new artists – that’s a way to force them to sing in French.

    And that is a problem because…?

    After all, they’re French and therefore I somehow expect them to sing in French just as I’d expect Italian bands to sing in Italian and so forth. It doesn’t mean they can’t sing a song in (badly accented) English some time in their future should they feel inclined to. :smile:

    Comment by tazey — February 8, 2005 @ 11:03 pm

  38. Interestingly (well, to me anyway), there is another side to this: I’ve just finished translating a song into French for a friend to circumvent these rules for when his band’s single is released here. Check out the Mancunian French accent on it when it’s released in March!

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — February 9, 2005 @ 12:06 am

  39. That is a problem because I’d expect an artist to sing in whatever language they like to. Artistic freedom is already scarce enough as it is, without adding limitations under the false pretense of supporting French creation.
    You made an interesting choice of an example, because the Italian are rather English-friendly, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t have many artists singing in English.
    Or I could also mention the Belgian, who produce more English-language rock than any other country.

    The whole bunch of Toubon’s laws never ceases to unnerve me. The greatest regulation of all being that any advertisement that uses English words must define them in a footnote or subtitle.
    “Allô, room service* ?
    * service d’étage”

    Comment by garoo — February 9, 2005 @ 2:51 am

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