Annals of French taboo avoidance

From a NYT Magazine article of April 15th on the French presidential race (“The Soft Middle of François Hollande” by Steven Erlanger:

Campaigning at Paris’s Agricultural Salon, where the urbane [Nicolas] Sarkozy always looks out of place and once famously lost his temper, telling a heckler, “Get lost, you poor idiot,” except in more profane terms, Hollande looked content among the farmers, chickens, goats and cows.

Erlanger could have said “cursing out a heckler” or something of that sort, but instead he chose to report Sarkozy’s curse indirectly. I guessed that the first part was Va te faire foutre ‘go fuck yourself, fuck off’; then there are several possibilities for ‘you poor idiot’, including the plain tu pauvre idiot.

But no. It turns out that what Sarkozy said to the heckler in 2008 (video here) was

Casse-toi, alors, pauv’ con!

(with pauv’ for pauvre)

The first part is merely slangy for ‘get lost, get the hell out of here’, but the second part, with the tricky noun con, is the piece that offended; in the context, ‘asshole’ would not be a bad translation.


3 Responses to “Annals of French taboo avoidance”

  1. YouTube wrapup « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the most recent (Nicolas Sarkozy cursing — “Annals of French taboo avoidance”, here) back to the Roger Bobo song from last October’s “Bobos”, here. Each has a link […]

  2. Bruce Says:

    “con” is avoided in polite conversation to the extent that “qu’on”, which sounds identical, is sometimes altered for no grammatical reason to “que l’on”.

  3. Sam C Says:

    I actually think Hollywood did well when they translated “con” to “schmuck” – the connotations are a much better match than “asshole.” “Get lost, you poor schmuck” flows pretty well to my ears. In Southern France/Toulouse, at least, people seemed to use con at least as much as my New Yorker relatives use schmuck, with the same intent & reaction (insult and/or humor). Either schmuck or asshole are better than “poor idiot,” which sounds like a term of endearment.

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