Why do some people insist on using French phrases in English? Like “noblesse oblige,” or “enfant terrible.” Just to make it clear, I’m aware that English derives a shit-bunch of words from French as well as a slew of other languages. But people who call themselves erudite and learned will drop a French phrase into their diatribes to make it sound more intelligent. As an example, here’s a sentence from a recent letter in Harper’s Magazine:
“Because her own veneration of the novel and literary criticism in the persons of Henry James and Trilling is on record, it’s hard not to see this as a cri de coeur.”
Note that the author (or perhaps the editors of the magazine) italicized the words to emphasize that they aren’t in English. I ask, simply, why doesn’t the English phrase, “cry from the heart” (or similar) suffice? It’s as if, in my opinion, the author felt that by saying it in another language it makes her statement more profound. It pretends to be more erudite than it really is.
I hate this.
I hate this because I don’t speak French and I don’t carry a handy French phrase dictionary around with me. I hate this because I can’t see why an English phrase doesn’t suffice. I hate this because, to me, it is the ultimate in literary pretension. It says, “the language I am speaking is not complete enough to express my profound thoughts, and therefore I pull from my repertoire of ready-made foreign phrases to speak the profundity for me.”
If you can’t say it succinctly and profoundly in your own tongue then perhaps you are not as erudite as you like to pretend.