The Economist: Does Charlemagne Speak Any French?

Perhaps it would be better for commentators in European matters to travel and live a bit more around Europe

Letter to The Economist:

Dear Editors

The author of the “Charlemagne” column makes quite a fuss about the alleged ability in EU documents for fish to “fish themselves” (“A fishy tale“, Dec 13).

The incipit and a lot of the sarcasm in the article are about “a daring, if grammatically correct, use of reflexive verbs, so that a ministerial statement blamed undersized hake that se pêchaient et se vendaient, suggesting the fish had fished and sold themselves.”

The actual ploy though appears to be based on “Charlemagne“‘s own challenged relationship with the French language.

Far from being “daring“, “passive impersonal” (or “passive reflexive”) is a very common construct in French and in other languages, with the reflexive pronoun “se” used to avoid the seldom-liked standard passive voice.

No French speaker, and nobody but a person with plenty of negative prejudices against the European Union, would have imagined that anybody had ever suggested that “the fish had fished and sold themselves“.

If you have something to criticise about the EU (and there is plenty of material in that respect!) could you please at least make an effort not to concoct baseless innuendos.