French Candidate Bashed for 'Bravitude'
Monday, January 8, 2007; 3:00 PM
PARIS -- Malapropisms, it seems, aren't exclusive to President Bush. France's Socialist presidential hopeful, Segolene Royal, is accused of battering the language of Moliere by speaking of "bravitude" _ when she apparently meant "bravoure." The linguistic invention on a visit this weekend to China was widely publicized in a country that takes proper usage of its language extremely seriously.
France Info, the country's main all-news radio station, repeatedly played a recording on Sunday of her comments at the Great Wall, as did LCI all-news television channel. A chronicle in the daily Le Monde was more forgiving and chalked the gaffe up to Royal's inventive spirit, calling it an example of her "lexical mischievousness."
The episode recalled the semantic adventures of Bush. Among his string of verbal gaffes, Bush has coined words like "misunderestimate" and "Hispanically."
It also provided fresh ammunition to Royal's political opponents, who say she is ill-equipped to become France's head of state.
Part of the reason that Royal traveled to China _ and to the Middle East in December _ was to prove that she can. But both trips have led to criticism. Rivals assailed her for meeting in the Middle East with a Hezbollah lawmaker and for not reacting immediately when he compared Israel's former occupation of Lebanon to that of the Nazis in France. Royal said she did not hear the remark.
With China, Royal has faced accusations of soft-pedaling on human rights and that the visit, with photo-opportunity stops at the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, seemed more of a well-publicized vacation than a serious mission by a would-be stateswoman.
In an apparently conciliatory gesture, Royal chose to use the Anglo-Saxon term "human rights" rather than the French "the rights of man," a nuance that the daily Le Monde said placed less emphasis on individual rights.
"One must ask serious questions as to whether Segolene Royal is up to the task she has set for herself," government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said Monday on France-Inter radio.
He and others mercilessly honed in on Royal's "bravitude" remark.
"We knew that Madame Royal had very large holes regarding diplomatic matters but no one imagined that she had such shortcomings in her knowledge of the French language," lawmaker Dominique Paille was quoted as saying in Le Monde. Paille is close to Nicolas Sarkozy, the leading presidential candidate on the right. Polls have generally shown support almost evenly split between him and Royal.
Royal delivered the offending remark while atop the Great Wall, so wind-swept that she only stayed 10 minutes.
"As the Chinese say, one who has not gone to the Great Wall is not brave," she said adding, "one who goes to the Great Wall conquers braveness (bravitude)," instead of the correct "bravura" (bravoure).
In contrast to Bush, who has jokingly called himself "a boon to the English language" and mocked his mistakes, Royal has remained silent, letting her handlers cover up the mess.
Her aides insisted that she did not put her foot in her mouth and that she invented the word deliberately.
"It's not a lapse. It's creation," campaign director Jean-Louis Bianco said on Canal Plus television.
Another campaign adviser, former Culture Minister Jack Lang, tipped his hat to the candidate "for having invented a beautiful new word."
"Semantic inventiveness is part of a candidate's capacity to speak something other than the stock political diatribe," said Lang, known for his erudition. Royal "at times speaks another language that touches people's hearts."