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Monday, November 18, 2019

Brexit and EU: Mind Your Language!

Good evening, class!

(All: good evening Jeremy, bonsoir, guten Abend etc)

Tonight let’s look at the difference between what words mean and what different people think they mean. A really good way to do this is to read the EU’s Treaty of Rome – after all, we’re never going to leave the EU.

Pliss, why you say that?

Because three Tory Prime Ministers have promised we will.

Now, if you’ll log on and go to you’ll see side-by-side translations in English, French and German – the EU’s Big Three. Got it?

In 1957 it was only six countries, and among their aims – see that section?  - was a famous phrase, ‘ever-closer union’. That’s the English version. What feelings, associations do you think English people have about the word ‘closer’?

Like, getting very fond of a girlfriend?

Yes, it’s a warm word, isn’t it? Anna, what’s the German translation there?

‘immer engeren Zusammenschluss’

And the word ‘eng’ in German means?

Vell Jeremy, it can mean ‘close’ but really I think more ‘tight’, like my clothes after Christmas.

Very good, Anna. In French, Danielle?

En français, ‘une unification politique plus vaste de l’Europe.’

‘Plus vaste’? That doesn’t sound tight or close. Why would that be?

No, it means bigger, wider – like, I don’t know, Napoléon’s empire?

And that idea still appeals to French people?

We like power and influence, grandeur, vous savez? Indépendance! We said to NATO we would have our own Bomb. We are happy to be in a Union, but only if we can run it.

Yes, Anna, you wished to say something?

For us it is different. Ve like to be together, like a big family. To share. ‘Eng’ is not all bad - if ve are closer, ve are also warmer und safer. Ze Romans never really conquered us, in our forests. For us it is not ‘la Gloire’, it is Bruderheit.


Brotherhood – you know, like ‘Alle Menschen werden Brüder’?

‘All men will become brothers’ – that’s Beethoven, isn’t it?

Nein, Schiller. Originally, ‘beggars vill become brother-princes.’ But it has become the anthem of the EU, nicht? That is vot ve stand for. Brotherhood…

-        -  But not equal brothers!


Brothers like Cain and Abel! Look at Greece today!

Hmm, going a bit far, Max, perhaps Jacob and Esau might be a better fit. But we’re not all Bible-readers here. Anybody think of a more contemporary analogy? Yes, Juan?

Phil and Grant Mitchell (chorus of ‘who?’)

Eastenders! The brothers, they are like love-hate, fight. In east London.

Filmed in Hertfordshire, actually, we built the Cockneys out of the Capital long ago. This isn’t going quite as I’d hoped. Any suggestions for another bit to compare? Yes, Max?

How about number five?

Which is?

‘Reduce the economic and social differences between the EEC’s various regions.’

Ah. Oh well. Anna, Danielle: same meaning in your languages? (Oui, ja.) Exactly the same. Okay, class, what have we learned so far? Yes, Ranjeet?

When you use different words to different people, it is to persuade. When you use the same words to everyone, it is to delude.

You know Ranjeet, I think you’ve gone as far as our class can take you. Anyone for a drink?

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