When the ever-rumpled Boris Johnson confidently announced last year that Britain would exit the European Union by the end of 2020 with a trade deal in hand and that anything else would be a “misstep of statecraft,” few people reckoned the statement would come back to bite him in the nether regions.
As things stand, Britain is on the verge of a no-deal Brexit which makes the Prime Ministerial statement a political faux pas of sorts
“Mon Dieu,” cried the French alertly. They knew their creations as well as anyone else and immediately grasped the implications of the Johnsonian misstep. Faux pas – meaning an embarrassing mistake – had been borrowed from the French. And if the Brits wanted to leave the EU, they would have to leave off their borrowed possessions as well.
It was going to be a long, cold winter. The British felt it acutely because they knew the enormous difference between the right word and the almost-right word. It was like saying “I apologise” instead of “I’m sorry” at a funeral.
The French were unrepentant as they noted that “ballet” was also from the French. It kept the English on their toes because the French knew how to put two and two together.
President Macron also insisted that “baguette” be removed from the English language. The President was insistent because the French felt a special affinity for its famous bread.
Even the Brits knew that the humble baguette was invented by one Jacques Baguette. Sitting gloomily in his kitchen one wintry afternoon in the 16th Century, the near-destitute chef was pondering the future when his eye idly fell on some water, salt, flour and yeast in that order.
A more superstitious man might have shuddered and thrown some of the salt over his left shoulder, just in case. A more practical man would have mixed the water into a stiff cognac to ward off the winter chills.
But JB was made of sterner stuff and, in a magnificent moment that screamed Eureka, he mixed the flour, water and yeast together and, with just the right pinch of salt, he created the dish that would always bear his name and forever sustain French armies marching towards surrender.
Even Marie Antoinette lost her head over a careless reference to the great inventor. When told that the French people were starving and needed food, the haughty queen replied: “Let them eat baguette.”
The President couldn’t resist rubbing it in to the English. “You will notice,” cried Macron triumphantly. “That she did not say ‘let them eat chips.”
Richard Branson was aghast that “entrepreneur” was also from the French, while musicians groaned to find out that “genre” had also been ruled out.
On the other hand, the British thought that the French could keep some of their words, thank you. Take the pretentious “avant-garde” for instance. The late, great John Lennon put it best. “Avant-garde?” he asked ironically. “Doesn’t that mean bullshit in French?”
The English thought that the French could also keep hors d’oeuvres, those bits of food served at fancy parties. Most folk could neither pronounce nor spell the word.
It wasn’t the sort of English word like “horticulture” which was a good, stout Anglo-Saxon word right up there with “major” or “Anglican.” And, unlike hors d’oeuvres, it was easy to make a sentence with horticulture.
As an example, let me famously quote Dorothy Parker: “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”