The latest news from France is that the French President, Emmanuel Macron, is truly fed up with the un-vaccinated. So fed up, he said on Wednesday that he wants to emmerder them: “J’ai envie d’emmerder les non vaccinés,” he told the newspaper, Le Parisien.
There’s some debate over what this means. Some might translate “emmerder” to mean “to fuck with;” others might say it means “to cover with shit” (which is the literal translation); while still others say it means to “piss off,” only a little harsher, more like “to make their life a living hell.” Apparently it was Rabelais, the French Renaissance writer, physician, monk and great humanist who came up with the word and wrote, as his definition, that monks “…eat the shit of the world, that is to say, the sins.” Seulement en France would a monk come up with such a wonderfully descriptive word!
Whatever the true meaning, it’s obvious that the President of the Republic cursed out some of his citizens. It wasn’t tellement de citizens, truth be told, only about four million–according to the New York Times, which writes: “Seventy-seven percent of French have received at least two doses, or 90 percent of people 12 years old and over.” However, that same article points out that “some 4 million adults have yet to get a single shot, and the unvaccinated disproportionately make up those who are hospitalized or dying.”
Of course, social media went nuts while mainstream American media outlets stumbled along trying to find the right words to explain to English speakers what emmerder means in French. NBC translated emmerder as “to annoy.” Hmmm. CBS said, it meant to “make life miserable”–well, yeah, covering someone in shit would be pretty miserable; NPR said, “piss off,” and the New York Times politely followed suit, but then said that actually Macron was “using a French word that is more vulgar” than “piss off.”
Some critics immediately argued that this is unacceptable language for a sitting (or any) president, especially three months before the Presidential election. (Though Americans who endured Trump might have a hard time feeling that Macron was being more outrageous than just refreshingly honest.) Anyway, Macron’s approval rating at the end of 2021 was well over 40% and appeared to be swinging up (a more recent poll predicted his winning the April 10th election, handily.)
But will this explosive Renaissance word-drop help or hinder him? Hard to tell right now. But it does seem that lots of French people are actually, well, enjoying it. And the BBC says that Macron knew exactly what he was doing. The BBC’s Paris correspondent, Hugh Schofield writes, “By taking such a strong and coercive position against the unvaccinated, Mr Macron is inviting his political opponents to choose their side. Are they with him, doing everything possible to boost the number of vaccinated? Or are they siding with the minority, the five million instead of the 50 million, and the anti-vaxxers?”
Macron went on to state that he will not start bringing the law down on the unvaxxed. But that he will limit as much social life as possible for those who will not comply with the health crisis. “I won’t send [unvaccinated people] to prison,” he said. “So we need to tell them, from January 15th, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.” In other words, “I’ll make your life pretty freaking shitty. So shitty, you might feel you’re rolling in it. Let the Brits tell you I’m saying something nicer. And if you believe them, go live there!”
Right-wing Republican candidate Valérie Pécresse responded that offending the voters was not the way to control vaccination. While Marine Le Pen said these are not the words of a President. Those were damning (and, some might say, hypocritical) words from the far right.
What do you think? Watch British comedian Paul Taylor’s send up of the kerfluffle and his unique interpretation of the word emmerder:
Caitlin Shetterly, Frenchly’s editor, and Angelika Pokovba, a Frenchly staff writer, both contributed reporting to this story.