Let us be frank about it. Frank-ness after all, seems appropriate in any discussion about the French.
The French are, to put it mildly, sensitive about their language. For some time, they have been the protectionists of the international language trade. They have been perfectly willing to export words to America, but unwilling to import them.
The French generally regard Americanisms as the kudzu of the language world. Once you let them in, these linguistic weeds start creeping all over the place, and before you know it, they strangle the sturdy French vines. They have therefore hacked away at Anglo-Saxon intruders as if they were Henry V's troops at Agincourt.
The campaign began almost 20 years ago when a French professor named Rene Etiemble published a book called "Parlez-Vous Franglais?" It warned of the dire consequences to the Republic of France if the people were getting together at "le meeting" or doing "le shopping" at "le supermarket."
The current minister of French culture, Jack Lang, sounded off against America last summer for "this financial and intellectual imperialism that . . . grabs consciousness, ways of thinking. . . ." Then, in February, a meeting of worldwide "intellectuals" whom Lang called to Paris came to the agreement that our very own "Dallas" was the greatest threat to Western culture.
Now English has received another blow from The High Commission for the French Language. About a week ago, The High Commission (I told you the French take their words seriously) released an official list of French substitutes for English words that have been infiltrating the vocabulary of French communications people.
They have instructed replacements for words like "drive-in" and "flashback." They have even ordered that "Walkman," a product that was made in Japan, be renamed "Balladeur." Six months from now, anyone caught saying the word "jingle" on the tube may be in for trouble.
I, for one, refuse to simply lie back on my chaise longue and take this act of French aggression. Here at last is a true cause celebre, one might even say a debacle. What is at stake is nothing less than the linguistic balance of payments.
If they are declaring war on Franglais, I say that it is time for us to declare war on Englench. No matter what Jack Lang thinks, it is not the Americans who are cultural imperialists, or even imperialistes. It's the French.
Who, after all, made us wear lingerie when our underwear was perfectly decent? Who turned our cooks into chefs and our dances into ballets? Where was it writ that a bunch of flowers had to become a bouquet? What was the reason for turning a decent American tenderloin into a chateaubriand?
What the French resent is not our imperialism but our democracy. We gave them McDonald's. They gave us croissants. We gave them the ice cream cone. They gave us the quiche.
The people who invented the very word elite simply have a gripe against mass culture. They cheerfully export the notion that the only proper clothing is their couture and the only proper hairdo is their coiffure and the only proper food is their cuisine. Then they complain about "le jeans."
Through their own largesse, not to say, noblesse oblige, they prefer to determine what is haute and what is not. They want the exclusive worldwide franchise to separate the chic from the gauche.
If they want to ban Franglais, we will meet them at the beaches with boatloads of their own Englench. If they turn their drive-ins into cine-parcs, we shall turn our quiche into cheese pie. If they no longer attend le meeting we will no longer rendezvous.
If they make it de rigueur to eliminate Americanisms, we shall refuse to eat our apple pie a la mode and our soup du jour. We shall in fact, hoist them on their own petulant petard.
And if the French decide to give up and return to the old laissez-faire linguistics, well, they better not call it detente.
Copyright (c) 1983, The Boston Globe Newspaper Company.