Friday, October 12, 2007


Big Lucy

Just as Italy is known as the bel paese (see previous post), France is sometimes referred to as the grande nation. At least by Germans it seems to be. Or rather it seems to Germans that it is referred to as such by the French but this is not actually so.

I get 18,000 plus google hits for "die grande nation" site:de and less than 1,000 for "la grande nation" site:fr.

The Germans tend to use the expression ironically, to mock the delusions of grandeur they attribute to the French.

The French however don't ever seem to refer to themselves as the grande nation and use the term if at all only in the specific historical context of the Napoleonic era.

I am not the first to notice this, I find:
In Frankreich ist die Formulierung "La Grande Nation" nahezu unbekannt. Der Franzose spricht von "la nation", von "la republique", von "la patrie" oder auch von "l"hexagon" - dem Sechseck. Wer "grande nation" ausschließlich auf deutschen Seiten googelt, findet 276 000 eindeutige Belege. Wer nur auf französischsprachigen Seiten sucht, bekommt bloß 175 000 - aber da ist dann auch "die große Nation der Algonkin- Indianer" dabei.
Apart from the fact that the French don't actually refer to France as the grande nation, there is I think another misconception at play here arising from the ambiguity of the word grand (or groß). From what I gather, the historical grande nation was grand as in big and inclusive rather than as in superior. The same sense as found in the expression grand marché for the EU concept of a single market transcending national frontiers (now more commonly referred to as the marché unique or marché intérieur).

In English, the distinction is usually clear because great is used for excellence and big for size. Except in certain set expressions and proper names e.g. Great Britain, where great means big (originally to distinguish Britain from Brittany, both being Britannia/Bretagne), but which a long line of British military successes led some to reinterpret as meaning superior.

Speaking of Great Britain and/or the United Kingdom, some of my British colleagues at the EU institutions get quite irritated by the common practice among continental Europeans (and others) of referring to GB or the UK as England, Angleterre etc. But lookee here:
The correct and careful use of such terms as "United Kingdom" in any context other than the strictly legal is a recent development, dating from about the 1930s, when modern Scottish nationalism became a live political issue. Anything written before that date, even by historians, is likely to use "England". Disraeli famously signed the 1878 Treaty of Berlin as "Prime Minister of England", to the dismay of his Foreign Office advisers. And A.J.P. Taylor, in the preface to his volume of the "Oxford History of England", published in 1965, had to point out that "when the Oxford History was launched a generation ago 'England' was still an all-embracing word. It meant indiscriminately England and Wales, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, and even the British Empire." As a result of this, the usual term in most foreign languages has always been "England", and will probably continue to be so for some time yet
So the despised practice has quite a pedigree. Like saying Burma for Myanmar perhaps...

It is not always easy to know when grand is great and when it's just big. When Bernard Laporte, French rugby coach, says of his team, 'ce soir, nous avons été grands, comme le président de la République', then if you didn't know he was so cosy with the Pres (who's not the tallest) you might think he was being a little sarky.

English should be clearer but non-natives do sometimes get big and great confused. Luciano Pavarotti was renowned for bringing his art to a wider public than would ever frequent an opera house and many of these low-brows tended to be more impressed by his embonpoint than his high Cs. Thus he came to be jocularly known as Big Lucy (or even Fat Lucy). One or two in the Italian media mistook this big for grande in the sense of great (i.e. 'Big Lucy' = il grande Luciano) and when defending Pavarotti from his many detractors in his home country would cite this rather derogatory nickname as evidence of the high esteem in which he was held by the anglosassoni, who of course are arbiters of all things.

Here is the late maestro, singing the part of Nemorino at the Met in 1981.
Di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Ah! Cielo, si può, si può morir......

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?