Denis Beckett is a writer and journalist. File picture: Nqobile Sithole
Denis Beckett is a writer and journalist. File picture: Nqobile Sithole

If you'll excuse my French, less même chose

By Denis Beckett Time of article published May 2, 2016

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The oddity about my French, and the French I daresay of most people I know, is that it has a handful of two-syllable phrases - bon jour, bon soir - accompanied by a single entire idiom - plus ca change plus c’est la même chose, meaning “the more things change the more they stay the same”.

We no doubt say it in pidgin, and I’d have spelt it in pidgin had Wictionary not put me right while telling me that it was coined by a Paris journalist in January 1849. (Proud of him - who ever heard of a journalist’s contribution surviving 170 years?)

In this phrase lies a wonder of the world. Not in the Seven Wonders but a creditable entry for about 50 000th. Why does English say it in French?

We don’t remember Marie Antoinette saying: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” History has her saying: “Let them eat cake.” (Although there’s now doubt that she said it at all; it may be taken from a book published when she was 9.)

But somehow our mispronounced même chose lives on as Seffricanese for things changing but staying the same, a subject on which we are world experts.

Recall those old years of nagging the old establishment: “Look, this race thing will end in tears, drop it now and start working out how to recognise the human race.” Consider how that has flowed without a hiccup into the new years of nagging the new establishment: “Look, this race thing will end in tears, drop it now and start working out how to recognise the human race.”

Recall the indignation - “What! Are you mad or are you a communist!? Our survival is in jeopardy!” Consider how neatly those nouns have switched. “What! Are you mad or are you a racist!? Our success is in jeopardy!”

Recall the horror in the eyes of decent bewildered people: “But; but; are you against Afrikaners, do you want to push us down?” Consider the horror in the eyes of decent bewildered people: “But; but; are you against Africans, do you want to keep us down?”

Recall the urgency of the anxiety to explain: “No, no, no, exactly the opposite, it’s that your and my true survival is sabotaged while the state splits people into birth categories.”

Consider the urgency of the anxiety to explain: “No, no, no, exactly the opposite, it’s that your and my true success is sabotaged while the state splits people into birth categories.”

Then, common sense was discredited by moron bigots who did want to wipe out whites or Afrikaners, for some economy-wrecking death wish reason that goes with stunted psyches.

Now, common sense is discredited by moron bigots who do want to keep Africans down, for some economy-wrecking death wish reason that goes with stunted psyches.

Contemplate the new mining charter. Aiming to advance Africans it creates a category of black-only shares that no one will ever buy at normal price, because they can’t later be sold on the normal market.

Those shares have nowhere to go but down.

If officialdom was determined to weld a link between “second-class” and “black”, it couldn’t do better.

Chirping is odious, especially when your chirpees write you off before you start. (These days for age, gender and complexion; last time home-language did the trick.)

But you know you must chirp, and you know where it ends: those who denounced you say thank you, but wish you had chirped sooner, louder. Bit by bit we approach a world where all can have our own characteristics and no one is tethered to a race’s reputation. We’re not condemned to même chose forever.

* Beckett is a writer and journalist

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Star

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