Qui décide du bon usage?

Nous savons tous que l’arbitre ultime est le Dictionnaire de l’Académie française mais ce que nous ne savons pas est comment l’Académie décide que tel usage doit  être accepté ou rejeté  ou que tel néologisme peut rentrer dans notre belle langue. Pour comprendre ces mécanismes et le rôle des multiples commissions de terminologie et de néologismes des ministères, écoutez Mme Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, Secrétaire perpétuel de l’Académie française, présidente de la Commission de la langue française expliquer  comment un mot devient digne de figurer au Dictionnaire de l’Académie française :cliquez ici


La fête Roch Hachana:la tête de l’année

Si vous voulez comprendre les aspects à la fois festifs et rigoureux de cette grande fête juive , écoutez l’explication qu’en fait le grand Rabbin Haïm Korsia, aumônier général israélite de l’armée française , sur Canal Académie.Comme lui,souhaitons Shana Tovah à tous nos amis juifs.

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol arrived last night and turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. What the book gained in thickness it lost in tautness .Much of the plot’s main « surprise » can be guessed after the first few chapters. Set in a Washington DC awash with Masonic symbolism one cannot help but be reminded of the movie National Treasure. Readers interested in finding more about the Masonic symbols used by Brown should consult the website, http://www.freemasonlostsymbol.com which is a collaboration of the Masonic Society, the Masonic Service Association and the George Washington Masonic Memorial to address the book’s Masonic references.

As in his Da Vinci Code, Brown’s villain here is a thoroughly repulsive psychopath, Mal’akh, reminding one of Silence of the Lambs. I wonder why such psychopaths exert such a fascination on Dan Brown. The rest of his characters lack in depth:Inoue Sato director of a mythical Office of Security within the CIA ,improbably investigating in Washington D.C. seems to step out of a cartoon.

While the book is principally a pean to people’s potential, sadly, it is spoiled by suffused sloppiness. Here are 3 glaring examples:

1-at p.421 and 424,Professor Langdon is struggling to decipher a series of pictograms when he exclaims « The first letter is Η » and then « Suddenly he realized what the word might be :Ηερεδομ » the word « Heredom » which he proceeds to define, correctly, giving a correct  etymology completely misspelled: « From the Greek Ηερεδομ originating from Hieros-domos « .In Greek, as Mr. Brown should have easily ascertained, the letter H is the capital « η »=eta not the English « H ». In Greek there is no letter for the aspirated « h », the effect is achieved through the use of a diacritic, the spiritus asper, or rough breathing represented by an inverted comma placed above and before the vowel to be aspirated. Thus the word should have been written   Ἑρεδομ or – Ἡρεδομ.

2-at p.437-8, he writes « all spiritual rituals included aspects that would seem frightening if taken out of context-crucifixion reenactments, Jewish circumcision rites….Islamic niqab… ».Sorry Mr.Brown, the niqab is not a spiritual ritual; it is merely an article of clothing that covers the entire body of certain Moslem women leaving only the eyes. Islamic scholars are divided on the question of whether the niqab is mandated or simply permitted by the Koran but none regards the niqab as a spiritual ritual.

3-at p.497, chapter 133 ( yes!) after the protagonists have been chased around ,taken prisoners liberated,escaped from improbable situations all starting with a speech that Prof.Langdon was to give at 7 p.m., Brown writes that Langdon was « still unable to believe that it had been less than ten hours since [about 7 p.m.] ».We too are unable to believe that he could have done it in ten hours, however skilled or superhuman Langdon may be!

All in all ,to borrow the phrase :a good yarn ruined.

Comment acquitter la facture du percepteur en donnant un tableau ?

C’est le thème du dernier article de Thibault de Ravel d’Esclapon.Il y explique comment une disposition ajoutée au code des impôts il y a quarante ans permet aux propriétaires d’œuvres d’art  jugées historiquement  importantes de payer certains de  leurs  impôts en donnant ces œuvres au gouvernement.Il explique le mécanisme de la dation en paiement  et relate quelques uns des exemples les plus célèbres ,dont  Le déjeuner sur l’herbe ou le Portrait de Diderot de Fragonard .La dation en paiement ne s’applique pas à tous les impôts-ce serait trop beau-seulement à certains comme  l’ impôt sur la fortune.

Secrets of the Vatican

Bernard Lecomte,former journalist with the influential catholic daily newspaper La Croix, author of a well regarded biography of Pope Jean-Paul II has just published an interesting book : »Les secrets du Vatican »(Perrin 2009).Lecomte is a fine connoisseur of Vatican intrigue and whispered secrets.

Starting with Pope Benedict XV’s desire to have the papacy regain a role in international affairs and ending with Pope Benedict XVI,the former Panzerkardinal, the author highlights « secrets » from the reigns of each of these eight popes. Conspiracy buffs will delight in reading why the Holy See has no interest in proving the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin but will be disappointed by the revelation of the Third Secret of Fatima, by Lecomte’s explanation of Pope John Paul I’s death ,by his views on the Roberto Calvi affair ( Msgr Marcinkus was not dishonest, merely stupefyingly incompetent in financial matters  and Calvi was likely in the clutches of the Cosa Nostra) and by his belief that the Bulgarian connection in the case of Ali Agça’s attempted assassination of John Paul II is a figment of conspiracy theorists’ imagination.

Students of parliamentary procedure will appreciate how John XXIII and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith battled for control of the committees (and their agendas!) for the preparation of Vatican II, how in the discussions within the all-important Theology Committee the high prelates pushing for the adoption of dogmatic-legalistic view of the Doctrine tried to thwart the biblico-pastoral views of the majority and how ,in fine,the Pope’s discovery of his terminal illness decided him to boldly go where no Pope had gone before in his famous opening speech Gaudet mater ecclesia.

Students of politics will delight in the description of the relationship between Mussolini and Pius XI that resulted in the Lateran Accords granting the independent legal status to Vatican City, in how John Paul II’ s political skills ( and accurate intelligence) allowed him to box in Jaruleski  in the matter of Walesa’s Solidarnórsć having correctly anticipated Gorbatchev’s reactions and will truly appreciate the beauty of John Paul II’s move to neutralize the Opus Dei by canonizing its founder José Maria Escriva de Balaguer in 2002.

That being said what struck me most is what the stories told by the author showed without expressly making the point: how at various critical junctures in history one finds men on the front lines of history and one finds those same men later ascending to the throne of Saint Peter.

For Benedict XV the Russian revolution presented an opportunity. For him, the elimination of the tsars, historical supporters of the Orthodox Church meant that there was an opening to help the Russian Catholics. To help him accomplish his goals of helping Russian Catholics and of restoring the papacy’s role in international affairs, Benedict XV relied on two nuncios Achille Ratti ( Pius XI) in Poland and Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII) in Berlin. The new Soviet regime was anxious to gain recognition and Benedict XV hoped to dangle the recognition card to secure the future of Catholics in the new Soviet State.

Benedict XV died and on February 6, 1922 Achille Ratti is elected as his successor taking the name Pius XI.In 1924, Pius XI continues the strategy of Benedict XV and sends Nuncio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, to negotiate secretly with Lenin and in 1925 Pius XI secretly reestablishes a catholic hierarchy in the USSR asking Nuncio Pacelli  to secretly ordain 46-year old Jesuit Michel d’Herbigny as a bishop for all the USSR at a secret ceremony in Berlin.

Of all the recent popes none has been more controversial than the erstwhile nuncio to Berlin, Eugenio Pacelli elected in 1939 as Pius XII,following Pius XI « who could see clearly and far » .Pius XI  had the courage to promulgate  encyclicals  condemning the « Action française » (1926),fascism (« Non abbiamo bisogno« 1931 ) ,Nazism (« Mit brennender Sorge » 1937),and communism ( « Divini Redemptoris » 1937).

Pius XII came from a long line of people close to the Holy See: his grandfather founded the Osservatore Romano and his father as dean of the Holy See lawyers negotiated the Lateran Accords. Pius XII was himself an experienced negotiator of concordats (Serbia 1914, Baveria 1924, Prussia 1929, Baden 1929) who after 12 years as nuncio to Berlin thought he could get to some form of concordat with Hitler.

The legalistic training of Pius XII is, according to Lecomte, the reason underlying Pius XII’s silence on the death camps.Lecomte recounts how UK ambassador Osborne gave a complete dossier on the death camps to Msgr Tardini on December 18, 1942 with the message that the UK and US governments suggest the Pope should use it for his Christmas message to the world. Pius XII refused to take sides not wanting to provoke Hitler any further and believed that he, like a judge, had a duty of reserve. Yet, he was not afraid to use the Church’s buildings throughout Rome to shelter the some 5000 Roman Jews threatened by the Nazis.

The infamous Finaly affair-Jewish child baptized as toddler to protect against Nazi extermination kidnapped by nuns to prevent return to natural Jewish parents and relapse into Judaism- saw the nuncio to Paris Angelo Roncalli ,the future John XXIII siding with the errant nuns while the Pope’s assistant Montini ,the future Paul VI tried to find a negotiated solution.

Similarly, the influence of those titans of the Church can be discerned in the experiment with worker-priests in France. None other than Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, visits Marseille in 1947 to study the experiment of Father Loew: to regain traction with the proletariat more and more taken by the Marxist gospel, priests were sent to work as ordinary factory workers without cassock and collar. The future Paul VI approves the publication of an Italian translation of father Loew’s book on the worker-priests experiment.

The very same Paul VI wrestled in 1968 with the problem of contraceptive pills for Catholics. In 1930, Pius XI had authorized the natural Ogino method in Casti Connubii.The issue was whether a chemical method should be approved by the Church. Paul VI appointed a blue-ribbon panel of experts,theologians,medical researchers and –innovation-two catholic couples .The panel recommended the approval of the Pill, no doubt in part influenced by the Canadian wife, Colette Poitvin, who asked the panel’s theologians whether they thought God was more likely to ask a woman « did you love » or « did you take your temperature » ?Yet Paul VI hesitated and was finally swayed by the up-and-coming bishop of Kracow he quickly promoted to cardinal, Karol Wojtyla who had written a book “Love and Responsibility” on the meaning of Christian love. And so Paul VI went against his experts’ advice and issued Humanae vitae condemning the Pill.

Scandalmongers will no doubt be disappointed by Lecomte’s book but historians will be grateful for his lifting the veil of secrecy over many temporal/spiritual issues that confronted those eight most recent Popes.

Of Loos and Language

Interested in the differences between American and British usage? If yes ,then do read Roger Cohen‘s delightful piece « Of Loos and Language ».Several years ago, Lynn Truss, the former host of the BBC Radio 4’s Cutting a Dash programme published an equally delightful book:Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation whose title derives from a well known amphibology :

 » A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

‘Why?’ asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

‘Well, I’m a panda’, he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. ‘Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves. »

Surely,Mrs Truss and Mr. Cohen are as aghast as I am at the American propensity to use « that » to refer to persons and to render obsolete the difference between « that » and « which » .As language is a symbolic way to express oneself, how can one express oneself correctly without correct use of the symbols? A mathematician misusing symbols is hardly likely to come to the right result.

François Guizot (1787-1874)

Canal Académie nous propose une émission sur François Guizot par l’historien Laurent Theis ,auteur d’une biographie de Guizot .Dans cette émission ,il fait ressortir les trois passions , l’enseignement, l’histoire et la religion,d’un homme ayant vécu de la Révolution à la Troisième République et qui  était membre de trois académies : française, des inscriptions et belles-lettres, des sciences morales et politiques.Pour écouter cette émission cliquez sur le lien: http://www.canalacademie.com/Francois-Guizot.html