Saturday, May 19, 2007



So many native speakers find this word an abomination it comes as no surprise that it was coined by the Dutch (as an English word, of course, mode oblige), although the concept behind it is most commonly associated with the Danes and their 'model' of easy hiring and firing coupled with generous unemployment benefits and back-to-work schemes. Since Denmark has managed to combine the low unemployment of the US model with the low poverty rates of the European model, the flexicurity approach has attracted much attention within the European Union, offering as it does the possibility of squaring the circle and avoiding unpalatable trade-offs in economic and social policy.

Of course the Dutch have terrific language skills, or perhaps they just think they do -
The Dutch have a high opinion of their ability to speak French, German and English. The reality is very different, according to new research.
Newspaper 'Het Parool' reported that a quarter of the respondents were hardly above beginners level in the three neighbouring languages, even though they regarded themselves as advanced or even very advanced.
The Nijmegen research was triggered by a European project that indicated most Europeans are better in foreign languages than they think.
The opposite is the case in the Netherlands.
- but either way they didn’t trouble themselves to coin equivalents to flexicurity in the other EU languages, and so French, for example, has ended up with a multiplicity of competing terms.

Wikipedia lists this bevy of uglies:
flexicurité, flexécurité, flexsécurité, flex-sécurité, flexisécurité, flexi-sécurité
The one that has invariably been used at the EU meetings I’ve worked at has been flexisécurité.

Technologies du Langage has been here already, I see:
Le mot magique de la présidentielle de 2002 était insécurité (une trouvaille géniale de Chirac). Celui de la présidentielle 2007 sera-t-il flexicurité?

Ou bien flexécurité? C'est assez amusant de constater que les deux formes constituent tout un programme d'affrontement: dans FLEXIcurité, il y a plus de flexibilité, dans flexECURITE, plus de sécurité. Je parierais que Nicolas Sarkozy a employé la première!
The term flexibility is ambiguous in itself and can refer to a number of different ideas in this context. But in whichever sense it is used in English, the term has a generally positive connotation. Not so the French cognate, it seems.

Here is French socialist politician Pierre Moscovi, speaking in English:
Flexibility in French is an awful word, it means that the workers are totally submitted to the will of the firms, that they are like objects or merchandise and that's what we don't want
At meetings I work at that deal with questions of labour market flexibility, the problematic nature of the French word flexibilité is sometimes raised by French-speaking participants. There then follows much head-scratching and hand-wringing about ‘cultural differences’ and the like. The idea of using a different, more appropriate translation does not seem to occur. My Francophone colleagues tell me souplesse is a good fit, and this is indeed the term used in the French version of the European Union’s Employment Guidelines.

Linguistic laypersons can find it very difficult to grasp the notion that just because words in different languages may look the same doesn’t mean they are the same.

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