Prenons l'anglais de vitesse

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Alissa Rubin, "Coping? Students in France just aren't", NYT 6/23/2015:

There is no easy translation or even a firm concept of the word "coping" in French, so when it turned up last week in a question on the national exam to earn a high school degree, it set off a fracas among the 350,000 or so students who took the test.

So far, about 12,000 of them have signed a petition posted four days ago on a social media site, change.org, arguing that the question was "too difficult."

The word appeared in the English reading comprehension section of this year's baccalaureate general exam, which requires an intermediate level of proficiency in two foreign languages.

The petition, "Annulation de la #QuestionM au Bac d'Anglais !", now has 12,459 supporters. It begins by postulating that

  1. Il est totalement inadmissible de proposer un sujet de bac avec des questions incompréhensibles et impossibles à traiter. ("It is totally unacceptable to offer a baccalaureate-exam topic with incomprehensible questions")

Here's the offending question:

A counter-petition, "Pétition contre ces pétitions de merde pour le bac" ("Petition against these shit petitions about the baccalaureate"), has 33 supporters.

There are several versions of the "coping is incomprehensible" argument. One version, to be filed under "No Word for X", is quoted in the NYT article:

"This word 'to cope' is unusually hard to translate into French," wrote Carol Just, a teacher of English in France, on the change.org website, "and the English notion is difficult to understand even for experienced adult learners because there is no real equivalent in the French language and in the French mind."

There seems indeed to be no French word exactly equivalent to coping — which is no surprise, since such exact translation equivalents are the exception rather than the rule. But there are plenty of ways to translate the concept, as listed e.g. here, including the verb gérer, glossed as "manage; handle; deal with". So this argument seems as weak as most "No Word for X" arguments are.

Another argument is that the English word coping is just too rare. "Les lycéens veulent faire annuler une question «trop difficile» au bac d'anglais", Le Figaro 6/21/2015:

Énervé, Arthur, 17 ans, lycéen parisien, a lancé vendredi soir une pétition sur le site Change.Org pour demander au ministère de l'Éducation de tout bonnement annuler la question. […] «À la sortie de l'épreuve», a-t-il raconté à l'AFP, «j'ai parlé à un ami dans un autre lycée et j'ai découvert qu'il avait eu exactement le même problème que moi avec la question M. Alors, j'ai lancé une pétition pour savoir si beaucoup d'autres l'avaient eu aussi, et c'est devenu viral. Plein de personnes n'ont pas compris le mot 'coping', c'est un mot peu courant», affirme-t-il.

Annoyed, Arthur, a 17-year-old Parisian high school student, started a petition Friday evening on change.org to ask the Minister of Education to simply annul the question. […] "At the start of the ordeal," he told AFP, "I spoke with a friend in another high school and I discovered that he had exactly the same problem as I did with Question M. So I started a petition to see if many others had felt the same way, and it went viral. Lots of people didn't understand the word 'coping', it's word that's rarely used", he asserted.

In fact, forms of the verb cope are reasonably common in English, according to corpus.byu.edu — about 25.3 per million in COCA, and about 16.5 per million for the wordform coping itself. only about 1% of which are used in the architectural sense ("a finishing or protective course or cap to an exterior masonry wall or the like", or  "a piece of woodwork having its end shaped to fit together with a molding").

Wordforms with current frequency similar to coping include pushing, alarm, and corruption, according to the Google Books ngram viewer as well as according to the counts in COCA:

These are not exactly "mots peu courants".

But the Google Books ngram evidence suggests that frequent use of coping is a relatively recent thing, mostly post-1960 and even post-1980:

And it's possible that French secondary-school instruction in English tends to focus on older works, or at least older forms of the language. (For some other complaints about English-language instruction in France, see Michel Delarche, "Coping with English: pourquoi nos étudiants sont faibles en anglais", Mediapart 6/24/2015.)

The coping story has of course gone viral — some of the uptake is cited in Laura Wojcik's 6/23/2015 article in Le Monde, "Bac 2015 : ne pas comprendre « coping », est-ce être nul en anglais ?". And the brouhaha made NPR's Morning Edition on 6/24: "French Students Not 'Coping' Well With English Test Question".

Viral complaints about baccalaureate questions in France are becoming a sort of tradition — last year it was complaints about Victor Hugo's poem Crepuscule. This topic was obviously less attractive to Anglophone media than French inability to cope with coping, but the French media coverage would have been a good way to brush up your colloquial French. Even the headlines are instructive:

"Bac de français : 'Crépuscule de merde', Victor Hugo enflamme Twitter" ("French Baccalaureate: 'Fucking Twilight', Victor Hugo enflames Twitter"), TF1 6/18/2014. This one brings up the construction "X de merde", which we saw earlier in "pétitions de merde" — it's literally "X of shit", and seems to have roughly the same content as English "fucking X", but I have the impression that it's somewhat less taboo.

"Bac français: 'Victor Hugo, enfoiré, avec ton Crépuscule!'" ("French Baccalaureate: 'Victor Hugo, you asshole, with your Twilight!"), L'Express 6/18/2014. Here we have enfoiré, which (I think) is the past participle of a no-longer-current verb enfoirer "to cover in excrement", and now seems to have become bleached of specific excremental content and turned into a general rude term of disapproval, like "bastard" or "asshole".

"​Le bac de Français sur Twitter ? 'Victor Hugo si j'te croise dans la rue t'es mort'" ("The French baccalaureate on Twitter: 'Victor Hugo, if I see you on the street, you're dead'"), MetroNews 6/18/2014.

"Bac 2014 : 'Victor Hugo il m'a prit la tête truc de fou'" ("Baccalaureate 2014: 'Victor Hugo, he got me crazy worked up'"), Le Nouvel Observateur 6/18/1014. Here we have prendre la tete à X (lit. "take the head to someone") = "get X riled up", combined with what I guess is an adverbial-adjunct use of truc de fou (lit. "thing of fool") = "crazy thing". Some more colloquial goodness in the article itself:

Quelle est la réaction des lycéens au poème "Crépuscule" de Victor Hugo ? Rien qui ne se rapporte, de près ou de loin, à la poésie : "Torches toi avec ton brin d'herbe fdp de Victor Hugo", "Nike ta mère Victor Hugo et Nike la mère à tes de potes aussi pd" ou encore – notre préféré au "Nouvel Obs" – "Victor Hugo et toute sa compagnie créole de poètes la, ils m'ont prit la tête truc de fou".

I'll leave most of this as an exercise for the reader, with the initial clue that "torches-toi" = "wipe yourself" is apparently a rude way of saying fuggedaboutit, and "fdp" must be "fils de pute" = "son of a bitch".

Overall, I've learned quite a bit of French from this English-exam controversy.

Another topic, connected only by the thread of cross-linguistic comprehension difficulties: My daily walk to the LPP takes me past the Institut Curie, whose building is decorated with the slogan

which took me aback the first few times I read it, since it seems to mean "Together, let's get cancer quickly", or maybe "let's get quickness cancer". Of course, given that a biomedical research institute is featuring this slogan, I quickly inferred that prendre here must somehow mean "defeat". (And indeed, the institute's English-language page renders it as "Together, let's beat cancer".

Still, the verb prendre can mean "get" as well as "take", as in "Il a encore pris une gifle par sa mère" = "He got another slap from his mother". So I wondered whether the slogan is in fact ambiguous in an unfortunate way.

But in the first place, prendre is apparently not used for getting illnesses. And in the second place, prendre quelqu'un de vitesse is apparently an idiom meaning to overtake or outrace someone, and so anyone who knows that idiom (which did not include me) would presumably be protected against going to the wrong meaning for "prenons le cancer".



34 Comments

  1. K Chang said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 3:24 am

    So the French are complaining that because they have not yet mastered English to be able to think in English (despite the question meant for "medium fluency"), they are at an inherent disadvantage since their mother tongue lacks such a concept?

    Mon dieu! What a disaster! (insert fake French accent here for sarcasm effect) We have unfairly penalized the students to expect them to achieve fluency in the specified foreign language!

    [(myl) Remember that this is an exam given at the time of secondary-school graduation. Not very many American high-school seniors could pass an exam in any foreign language at the exhibited level of difficulty, which seems roughly comparable to the text-understanding part of the English-language SAT.

    If the question depended on knowing a word like (say) gimbals or cullet, the complaint would be quite reasonable. And if the English-language curriculum never exposes the students to any material in which coping appears — which may be true — then the complaint about coping may be reasonable as well.]

  2. pep said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 3:32 am

    yep, no ambiguity with that last sentence: people can´t prendre an illness, they "have" it

    [(myl) But how is the inchoative expressed? In English you can "have cancer" as well, but when you transition from not having it to having it, you "get cancer". Is there a simple and general way to express such transitions in French?]

    Just like people shouldn´t use Change.org to make up for their lack of competence… but maybe some of those students mistook the word for another one they´re more used to: copier (to copy)

    (bad) jokes apart, to translate to cope with I would use the expression s´en sortir, wich has a parallel in my native language: http://rodamots.cat/sortir-sen/

  3. Paul Atlan said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 3:43 am

    Having had the misfortune of being bilingual in the French education system (20 years ago, my Bac examiner in English took 2 points off a perfect score because I had "made no effort to learn the language"), I can somewhat empathize with these students. I'm fairly certain the teaching materials and methods are still woefully out of date.

    My own bilingual kids have exactly ONE school in the entire Departement where we live that won't force them to "relearn" English from scratch. The better learners, like my own wife, taught themselves the language through lyrics of favorite singers or books by favorite authors. Movies are still overwhelmingly shown dubbed in French.

    The whole fracas has a very "ha ha look at these silly French people" flair to it. But it is the symptom of a deeper crisis in language teaching and, ultimately, in education in general in France.

    A small nit to pick. Even if "proper" usage is "prendre la tête *à* quelqu'un", the "à" is understood as the common, banlieue-style, grammatical error of replacing "de" with "à". So the literal translation is "take someone's head (in your two hands)".
    I'll pass on all the other grammatical mistakes these supposed Bac candidates make ("Il m'a prit" should be "Il m'a pris" … ) except for the funny "Nike ta mère". The original "Niquer" comes from Arabic (probably North African) slang meaning "to fuck". "Nique ta mère" is exactly equivalent to "Motherfucker". But with the prevalence of the athletic brand "Nike", usage is slowly drifting to "Nike ta mère" …

  4. pep said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 3:49 am

    addenda: I should have said "in some contexts, to translate 'to cope with' I would use…" first of all because to cope as I understant the verb, implies the process of dealing with a situation (s´en sortir doesn´t necessarily imply that process)
    Secondly, because when some french people say this verb doesn´t have a precise french translation they may be right… but then again as we know that´s the whole point about lerning a language: to come to understant its specificities

  5. Thomas Rees said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 5:50 am

    @Pep: Gràcies for the link; rodamots.cat és genial!

  6. GH said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 5:54 am

    Entirely aside from French students' inability to grasp "coping," I find the question somewhat ambiguous, along similar lines as the old "So how does he smell? -Terrible!" joke. How is he coping? Relatively well, I guess?

    It's also a bit tricky because the only explicit reference to Turner or his reactions is in the last sentence, so there's not much to go on unless students take a leap of faith. One of the other questions refers to the narrator as male (debatable within the novel), but doesn't make it clear that the narrator is Turner (or perhaps more precisely, a third-person narrator close to his point of view), and that the entire passage should therefore be understood as his impression of the situation.

    [(myl) "…protectively folded in his thoughts" is pretty straightforward, though, if you know or can guess what coping means.]

  7. Adrian Bailey said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 7:25 am

    I am one of those who believes that questions on the reading and listening papers in foreign-language exams at the intermediate level should be in the native tongue. Understanding a text, understanding questions about a text, and expressing opinions about a text are different things requiring different language competencies.

  8. Tal Linzen said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 7:38 am

    I think I've seen attraper used to mean "get" as in "get cancer".

  9. Eric said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 8:13 am

    That passage seems so difficult for high school level! I know I wouldn't have been able to handle an equivalent text after my years of high school French. But maybe the expectations are higher due to English's status as an international lingua franca, while French teaching in America generally assumes that you're only learning it because you need the credits and probably won't use it after graduation.

  10. Ellen K. said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 9:52 am

    I would find that question hard to answer, but not for any difficulty with the word "coping". Because the passage is hard to follow, and because those kinds of questions are hard to answer for me. I haven't a clue how to answer the question of how Turner is coping with the situation. And, no "protectively folded in his thoughts" doesn't give me an answer.

  11. K Chang said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 9:58 am

    Frankly, even if I had NO IDEA what "coping" meant, it was not difficult to *guess* what it meant by doing a little logical analysis, given the following assumptions:

    * The questions are in the same order as their answers can be found in the passage.

    * The question is specific enough to have one correct answer, albeit it can be expressed in different ways.

    The ONLY sentence mentioning Turner is at the end. Thus, the answer can only be "kept his head down and followed the man ahead, protectively folded in his thoughts". While "folded in his thoughts" creates a rather interesting mental image, "kept his head down" should be easily understood. Turner's ______ to situation is "avoidance", and that would in turn "define" coping.

    These were part of 'test-taking skills" taught way back when I was studying for the PSAT and SAT for reacting to unknown words. Much of the meaning can be guessed from the context, given the number of sentences available. I know I am probably doing a post-hoc justification here, but I felt the Frenchies do have a bit of thou doth complains much-itis

  12. GH said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 11:37 am

    @ myl:

    [(myl) "…protectively folded in his thoughts" is pretty straightforward, though, if you know or can guess what coping means.]

    @ K Chang:

    The ONLY sentence mentioning Turner is at the end. Thus, the answer can only be "kept his head down and followed the man ahead, protectively folded in his thoughts". While "folded in his thoughts" creates a rather interesting mental image, "kept his head down" should be easily understood.

    I'm not sure either part is all that straightforward. "Kept his head down" has both a literal and figurative meaning, both of which are plausible in this context, while "protectively folded in his thoughts" could mean either that he's withdrawn from the situation, thinking of other things (which may be suggested by "kept his head down"), or that he's keeping his mind occupied thinking about what he's experiencing in order to protect himself from the emotional impact (which thoughts would then be expressed in the passage as a whole).

    In any case, I would expect that a good answer to the question did not only look at that one sentence in isolation, but interpreted it in light of the whole passage. If the narration is from Turner's point of view, the mass of detail and what I perceive as a slight note of hysteria casts the description of his attitude in a somewhat different light.

  13. K Chang said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 12:26 pm

    @JH — the questions were quite specific Turner was NOT the narrator. They were referred separately.

  14. K Chang said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 12:33 pm

    Correction, they could be the same, but the 3rd question specifically referred to Turner, not merely "narrator". Given the two assumptions I stipulated, "kept his head down" both literally and figuratively would suggest he's avoiding the situation (by not looking to the side, but only at the feet of the guy in front of him). Which would have also lead to a guess on "coping".

  15. Paul Atlan said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 2:43 pm

    Attraper can indeed be used for sickness, but mostly in the context of a pathogen borne illness: "attraper un rhume", "attraper le palu " – but I'd never use "attraper le cancer" or "attraper une sclérose en plaques". It's strange, I'd never thought about the distinction until today, but in hindsight it's fairly obvious.

  16. GH said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 3:13 pm

    (Spoilers for Atonement, both the book and the film)

    As a matter of fact, Turner and the male "narrator" referred to in the first two questions must be one and the same; there is no other possible candidate in the book. (Although the term "narrator" is not strictly accurate, particularly since the novel later suggests that this section may not be Turner's actual experiences at all, but is actually the invention of another – female – character in the book, who later becomes an author and reimagines the events.) In any case, by the question-writer's assumption, Turner is the narrator, and all the observations, feelings and concerns expressed throughout the passage are his.

    So with that in mind, I think we have to see the final sentence in light of the whole paragraph. And that suggests that he is very aware of and attentive to what's going on around him, but tries to maintain a detached perspective by wondering how historians are going to report on the events.

    And this is why I think the question is problematic. There is enough context to suggest that this purported narrator and Turner are one and the same, but it is not stated outright. At the same time, making this identification complicates the question considerably, while in the alternative there isn't that much to say.

    I guess it depends on the length of answer expected. If it's just a sentence or two, then they probably only need to demonstrate that they understood the question (which many apparently did not) and can restate the relevant sentence from the text in their own words. If they are supposed to write a paragraph or more, I would think they'd be expected to draw this link, because otherwise there isn't enough material. I assumed it was the latter.

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 4:22 pm

    Does "des questions incompréhensibles et impossibles à traiter" mean "incomprehensible questions that are impossible to cope with"?

  18. 번하드 said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

    Et on *fait* un infarctus.
    I don't know if French has even more "catch" words to be used with specific illnesses.

  19. Ron said,

    June 25, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

    @Jerry Friedman – I had the same thought (although maybe traiter refers more to something concrete and s'en sortir or gerer to something abstract – not sure).

  20. Vanya said,

    June 26, 2015 @ 4:24 am

    In American English "coping" is very much an everyday word. But even some American native speakers might stumble over the world "lorries".

  21. Bloix said,

    June 26, 2015 @ 9:17 am

    I believe that "cope with" meaning to adjust, to manage one's own emotions, was first psychological jargon, moving in the 1950's-60's into general usage through pop psychology and self-help.

    Earlier, I believe, it meant to overcome adversity, to manage a challenging situation. (The original meaning – cope, from L colpus, hit – was to exchange blows, to fight.) The "overcome adversity" meaning is still in use. ("Ebola intensifies the struggle to cope with Lassa fever," http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29868394).

    If students in France had been taught only the older meaning, and not the pop psychology "manage one's emotions" meaning, he or she would have found the question baffling – Turner does nothing to cope with the situation in the original sense.

    I don't know anything about pop psychology and self-help in France, but I would think that these are the areas to look to for a French equivalent to the more recent meaning of "cope with."

  22. Stuart Brown said,

    June 26, 2015 @ 9:28 am

    Jerry Friedman said,
    June 25, 2015 @ 4:22 pm

    Does "des questions incompréhensibles et impossibles à traiter" mean "incomprehensible questions that are impossible to cope with"?

    Not really. "traiter" here is in the more general sense of "deal with" "address" (a question), or, maybe in an exam context, simply "answer".

  23. Bloix said,

    June 26, 2015 @ 9:48 am

    PS- presumably the answer to the question is: Turner coped by turning his thoughts inward and away from the scene around him.

    If you look at the links supplied in the OP for translating the concept, none of the examples given there (for uses of surmonter, lutter, gerer) would point you toward an understanding that "cope" means "maintain emotional equilibrium in a distressing situation."

  24. Stuart Brown said,

    June 26, 2015 @ 10:02 am

    I do have some sympathy with the students' complaints, but I'd have thought that understanding "cope" was the least of their problems. Admittedly it really depends on the context of the test and the expectations, but if it is a reading comprehension test (and not a literature question) it puzzles me (and I have read Atonement).

    For a start, how can you talk about a third-person narrator "arriving" anywhere? If the text quoted in Mark L's post really is the whole question, how do we even know the scene is set in France? If I remember right, this section of the novel deals with the British retreat to Dunkirk: so the troops are presumably only arriving in France in the sense of retreating from Belgium.

    A third-person narrator is surely an abstraction, and I'm not at all sure it makes sense to ascribe "feelings" or "concerns" to an abstraction. (If Turner is the narrator (as suggested above) does he have the idiosyncrasy of talking about himself in the third person?). I'm afraid I can't remember which character Turner is in the novel.

    So the first two questions are awkward, but the third seems to me fairly simple. If you blot out even the whole of "coping with" – and you're left with "How is Turner … the situation", the range of concepts which could fill the gap is pretty limited. If you've understood the text, clearly only the last sentence is about Turner, and the first two parts of that are very simple – kept his head down, followed the man in front -. Essentially, question 3 is merely checking if the students have understood "protectively folded in his thoughts", although I don't think that phrase is quite as straightforward as Mark Liberman suggests.

  25. Bloix said,

    June 26, 2015 @ 11:14 am

    The narrator is the omniscient author using free indirect speech to report the character's thoughts, a technique that has been used in English at least since Jane Austen. I don't think that this would have puzzled the students.

  26. GH said,

    June 26, 2015 @ 12:17 pm

    @Stuart Brown:
    (I looked up the passage on Google Books.)

    I agree that the question about arriving in France is very odd, since no such arrival is apparent in the text. And in fact, this bit (which takes place "twelve miles outside Dunkirk" – it's not clear whether in Belgium or France) is quite far removed from any "arrival" in France, where Turner has been stationed since before the preceding winter.

    In fact, I'm starting to wonder if there must be some other excerpt that has been left out. The first question at least would make more sense if the students were given something like this text:

    By the time she returned to Liverpool, he was disembarking at Cherbourg and the dullest winter of his life lay before him. The distress of course was shared between them […]
    It was a long bitter winter for the British Expeditionary Force in northern France. Nothing much happened. They dug trenches, secured supply lines and were sent out on night exercises that were farcical for the infantrymen because the purpose was never explained and there was a shortage of weapons.

    As for Turner as narrator speaking of himself in the third person, he might do so if he was, for example, retelling his experiences in an autobiography. A bit unusual, but not unprecedented. But I think in this case the question-writer is simply fudging the distinction between the narrator and the focal character, which is somewhat reasonable since the narration is both subjective and limited, following his thoughts and impressions closely.

    Also, the full context resolves the ambiguity I was arguing "protectively folded in his thoughts" had. He is full of thoughts about his future, returning home to England, having his name cleared, and being reunited with Cecilia.

  27. GH said,

    June 26, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

    The test (or what appears to be the test) is available along with instructions and grading rubric here.

    While the passage is the same as previously presented (apart from a short introductory statement saying it takes place during WW2) the questions are a little bit different. First of all, the question about "how does the narrator feel when he arrives in France" isn't about this text at all, but about a different passage (an excerpt from Helen Dunmore's The Lie, 2014).

    The actual questions about Atonement are:

    K. Choose the correct answer each time.

    1. Turner is…
    a) an officer.
    b) a civilian.
    c) an ordinary soldier.

    2. He is with a convoy that …
    a) is advancing along a beach.
    b) is advancing towards a small town.
    c) has come to a stop.

    L. Say in your own words what the men in the convoy can see all around them.

    M. Answer the following questions briefly and justify each time with a quote.
    1. What are three of his concerns about the situation?
    2. How is Turner coping with the situation?

    That does all look fairly straightforward.

  28. Patrick said,

    June 26, 2015 @ 6:48 pm

    My favorite use of "cope" ever: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkWCwr7xdfU&feature=youtu.be&t=21m56s

  29. iraguisan said,

    June 27, 2015 @ 2:38 am

    I love the counterpetition! When I was teaching "lycéens" English in the 2000s the everyday word "cope" was definitely a part of a curriculum firmly focused on social issues (I'd usually translate it as "faire face", perfectly serviceable in most uses).

    Here's an interesting use of the dastardly lexeme: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/14/art-of-diplomacy-how-french-schools-abroad-cope-with-censorship

  30. Bloix said,

    June 27, 2015 @ 7:07 am

    Do I repeat myself? Well then, I repeat myself.

    "Faire face" means, as i understand it, to face up to, ether in the sense of accepting responsibility for. E.g., faire face à ses dépenses, to pay one's expenses, or to confront (to stop denying) a reality. That is not what Turner is doing.

    If there is a French expression for "to manage one's own emotional state," we haven't seen it yet. My French isn't good enough to know if it exists; presumably there's a truly bilingual reader who can tell us.

  31. Jamie said,

    June 28, 2015 @ 6:04 am

    It seems to me (native English speaker) that the text is quite complex. So I am surprised that anyone able to understand it would have a problem with the word 'cope'. Perhaps they are used to answering comprehension questions by just looking for the keyword and then copying the following text. So perhaps their real complaint is that the text doesn't say, "Turner coped by …"

    I was going to say that I would be completely unable to answer Q1, so was relieved to see GH's comment that it was not about this passage!

  32. Bloix said,

    June 28, 2015 @ 7:40 am

    This morning while reading the Sunday paper I came across the expression "coping mechanism." This is the concept I've been trying to express in this thread. A little googling tells me that it's associated with the neo-Freudian school of psychoanalysis developed by Albert Adler, Karen Horney, and others – although I can't determine who originated the phrase. The original uses were negative, referring to things like excessive drinking or denial in the face of overwhelming evidence (e.g coping with a diagnosis of cancer or evidence of an unfaithful spouse by refusing to believe it). A Google ngram shows that it is virtually nonexistent in general usage until the 1960s, when it shoots up for a decade or so and starts to decline. The books that use it tend to be of the self-help sort.
    The question is, what is the French psychoanalytic equivalent and it it move into general usage via pop psychology in the same way as in the US?

  33. Leo said,

    June 29, 2015 @ 1:32 pm

    "torches-toi" (which in standard French would be "torche-toi", but colloquial French seems to be developing different imperatives) is not a fixed phrase meaning "fuggedaboutit". The author is telling Victor Hugo "torche[s]-toi avec ton brin d'herbe", that is, "go wipe [your ass] with your blade of grass" (the one that appears in the poem).

    This is both wishing an unpleasantly messy fate on him, and denying the value of the poem ("That blade of grass, poetic? It's only fit to be used as toilet paper"). Quite a creative insult, and I wish I'd come up with it.

    French doesn't seem to have an equivalent to "cope". "Coping mechanisms" is usually collapsed with "defence mechanisms" in translation.

  34. corrector said,

    July 1, 2015 @ 12:49 pm

    "people can´t prendre an illness"

    Of course they can.

    "prendre froid"
    "attraper une angine"
    "avoir la grippe"
    "faire une dépression"

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