On the attacks in Paris

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All of my friends in Paris are safe.

I don't know of any linguistic angle to these events. [Update — I do now, thanks to Sally in the comments.]

But here's a relevant (if ambiguous) comment, in form of Victor Hugo's 1828 poem L'Enfant:

Les turcs ont passé là. Tout est ruine et deuil.
Chio, l’île des vins, n’est plus qu’un sombre écueil,
Chio, qu’ombrageaient les charmilles,
Chio, qui dans les flots reflétait ses grands bois,
Ses coteaux, ses palais, et le soir quelquefois
Un chœur dansant de jeunes filles.

Tout est désert. Mais non ; seul près des murs noircis,
Un enfant aux yeux bleus, un enfant grec, assis,
Courbait sa tête humiliée ;
Il avait pour asile, il avait pour appui
Une blanche aubépine, une fleur, comme lui
Dans le grand ravage oubliée.

Ah ! pauvre enfant, pieds nus sur les rocs anguleux !
Hélas ! pour essuyer les pleurs de tes yeux bleus
Comme le ciel et comme l’onde,
Pour que dans leur azur, de larmes orageux,
Passe le vif éclair de la joie et des jeux,
Pour relever ta tête blonde,

Que veux-tu ? Bel enfant, que te faut-il donner
Pour rattacher gaîment et gaîment ramener
En boucles sur ta blanche épaule
Ces cheveux, qui du fer n’ont pas subi l’affront,
Et qui pleurent épars autour de ton beau front,
Comme les feuilles sur le saule ?

Qui pourrait dissiper tes chagrins nébuleux ?
Est-ce d’avoir ce lys, bleu comme tes yeux bleus,
Qui d’Iran borde le puits sombre ?
Ou le fruit du tuba, de cet arbre si grand,
Qu’un cheval au galop met, toujours en courant,
Cent ans à sortir de son ombre ?

Veux-tu, pour me sourire, un bel oiseau des bois,
Qui chante avec un chant plus doux que le hautbois,
Plus éclatant que les cymbales ?
Que veux-tu ? fleur, beau fruit, ou l’oiseau merveilleux ?
– Ami, dit l’enfant grec, dit l’enfant aux yeux bleus,
Je veux de la poudre et des balles.


  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 11:05 am

    Could you explain how a poem about the Chios massacre of 1822 is relevant to the Dayesh attacks on Paris in 2015?

    [(myl) The poem is about revenge, which apparently motivated the attackers and will motivate some of the response to the attacks.]

  2. Jan Karel Schreuder said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 11:25 am

    @coby Lubliner

    I suppose it's the last two lines that provide the relevance.

    – Ami, dit l’enfant grec, dit l’enfant aux yeux bleus,
    Je veux de la poudre et des balles.

    Or violence begets violence. A kind of recursive problem, without a condition to end the recursion. Where or when did it start and how and when will it end. There will be enough voices clamoring for more de la poudre et des balles. The poem does not advice one way or another and therein lies the ambiguity.

  3. Sally said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 11:45 am


    looks like linguistics *are* at play after all

    [(myl) Thanks! I'm sorry that I didn't catch on to this. To give a fuller reference, it's Zeba Khan, "Words matter in ‘ISIS’ war, so use ‘Daesh’", Boston Globe 10/9/2014. (Note the date, which is more than a year ago.) Mr. Khan writes:

    The term “Daesh” is strategically a better choice because it is still accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, “Daesh” can also be understood as a play on words — and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from “to trample down and crush” to “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” Already, the group has reportedly threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who uses the term.

    See also Ian Black, "The Islamic State: is it Isis, Isil – or possibly Daesh?", The Guardian 9/21/2014:

    Daesh, now officially adopted by the French government, is the Arabic acronym for Al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham, (though it should, to be precise, really be rendered as Da’ish). But why the change? It was never golng to be easy for the French EIIL (l’Etat islamique de l’Irak et du Levant) to supplant the more widely used English ISIL or ISIS (cf Nato vs Otan, EU vs UE). And it may, suggested one French blogger, have been chosen for its “sonorité péjorative” (dèche, douche, tache – to be broke, shower, spot). Hollande said he would be using the phrase “Daesh cutthroats”.

    IS supporters, in any case, dislike the term Daesh as it does not spell out the crucial Islamic component. In the words of Simon Collis, the British Ambassador to Iraq: “Arabic speakers spit out the name Da’ish with different mixtures of contempt, ridicule and hostility. Da’ish is always negative.” It’s certainly entered the ever-adaptive Arabic language big time: in the plural form – “daw’aish” – it means bigots who impose their views on others.

    Perfect. ]

  4. CLS said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

    A vaguely linguistic angle: in the report about the attacks on the PBS web page, they show a tweet saying Tirs à la Kalash au petit Cambodge dans le 10ème …. PBS states 'This tweet … says: "Shots at the Kalash in Little Cambodia in the 10th arrondissement …" ' While the preposition à, au can mean "at", in this case it clearly doesn't. I'd translate this as "Shots from a Kalash[nikov] at the Little Cambodia [restaurant] in the 10th" Shows how multi-purpose a preposition can be.

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 12:59 pm

    Thanks, Mark and Jan Karel, but I am still confused. Are we to see the war waged by Daesh (or Da'ish, or whatever) as somehow analogous to the Greek independence war?

    [(myl) À mon avis, non.]

  6. dana said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

    Another angle on the renaming of ISIS to Daesh:


    I don't speak a word of Arabic myself, so I'd be curious what any Arabic speakers here have to say.

  7. Y said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 1:55 pm

    From an American spelling pronunciation point of view, Daesh seems awfully ambiguous. If the term gets traction in the U.S. spoken media, how would it be pronounced? [dæʃ]? [diːʃ]? [dæjɪʃ]?

    [(myl) I'd vote for [du:ʃ]. ]

  8. Y said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 2:45 pm

    myl: it might happen.

  9. Tronc Odile said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 3:31 pm

    Merci à Mark Liberman. Et merci pour ce beau poème que j'avais oublié. Personnellement, je n'aime pas que l'on utilise le mot "daesh"(utilisé sans cesse ici en France) qui semble sorti d'un jeu vidéo; et donc attractif en quelque sorte. On dit aussi "état islamique"; des personnes ici disent qu'il faut "dératiser"…

  10. Sybil said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

    Thanks for this, MYL and Sally.

    Being offline since 15:30 EST Friday means I just learned of this, and little did I realize, but LL would come in to somehow help, if not to understand, at least to put it into some kind of context. But I am not surprised. But I am already wrung out and exhausted.

    I'll be following this comment thread.

    @Tronc Odile: similar things follow (so far as I can judge) from the ISIS vs ISIL. It's complicated. But those who choose one or the other often seem to be trying to simplify a narrative, rather than… I don't know, understand what's going on, maybe. They like the sound of the word.

  11. Sybil said,

    November 14, 2015 @ 8:58 pm

    … [It's complicated] as the links above imply.

    I am really exhausted. I can't even link appropriately, when it counts.

    My privilege showing, but how, exactly? (no joke)

  12. marie-lucie said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 8:45 am

    CLS: Tirs à la Kalash au petit Cambodge dans le 10ème …. PBS states 'This tweet … says: "Shots at the Kalash in Little Cambodia in the 10th arrondissement …" ' While the preposition à, au can mean "at", in this case it clearly doesn't. I'd translate this as "Shots from a Kalash[nikov] at the Little Cambodia [restaurant] in the 10th" Shows how multi-purpose a preposition can be.

    It means literally "Shootings with a Kalash[nikov]". Although the French preposition's meaning is vague and an English translation requires a more specific preposition, I don't think that "from" is part of the meaning of "à".

    "Tirs": this word refers to the act of shooting in general. You can say in English "I heard a (gun)shot", but the French translation could not include "un tir", you would say "J'ai entendu un coup de feu".

    Tronc Odile: dératisation: I think you must refer to the (older?) pejorative use of raton "little rat" for an North African, rather than to a form of pest control (English does not have a word "deratization").

  13. Tronc Odile said,

    November 15, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

    I think "with" (or "by"?) can be part of the meaning of "à", ( fait à la main; écrire à la main, à la plume…).
    "Dératisation": I was refering to angry people around me, saying that terrorists are not human (for me they are inhumane), and should be treated as rats. I don't believe they confuse terrorists with North African (I don't know this use of "raton").

  14. ardj said,

    November 19, 2015 @ 3:23 am

    @marie-lucie, @Tronc Odile
    à la: my Robert notes the usage 'marquant la manière d'être ou d'agir': and while there is no dispute about the Kalshnikov*, is this instance saying that the shots were definitely from a Kalash or saying that they were shots as if from a Kalash, that is from that kind of automatic rifle or even generally just heavy automatic fire ?

    By contrast, while 'shootings' would normally be used in English to refer to a collection of incidents in which shots were fired, I don't think it can be used very happily to refer to a number of shots on a specific occasion, – to me 'shots from /by' would read better.

    *I suspect PBS originally got muddled with Casbah / Kasbah or even Cabash

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