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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“We’re just urinating on the ashes of the fire”

The French love English so much that they have established a prize to celebrate the encroachment of a global language, tying humanity together and promoting virtues of their revolution: liberty, fraternity and equality. Some have won this prize for demonstrating solidarity with their fellow European citizens and sacrificing the chance to speak in their most honourable and ancient tongue in order to facilitate communication:

But topping the poll for grave disservices to the mother tongue is France’s higher education minister, Valerie Pecresse.

Her crime: proclaiming to the press that she had no intention of speaking French when attending European meetings in Brussels, because, she said, it was quite obvious that English was now the easiest mode of communication.

The name of the prize is the Prix de la Carpette Anglaise, a mouthful that appears to indicate talking English is equivalent to lying back and receiving the droit de seigneur. If you are rewarded with this honour, it means that you have displayed fawning servility towards the Anglosphere. So if you politely speak English in a meeting when everyone else does, this is enslavement by an imperialistic tongue, rather than politely accepting the majority language of your colleagues.

However, as the rest of the article continues, English is a second language and stripped down to the bare essentials for aiding communication: a development that is called Globish. A rather clumsy term as I would not wish to call the speakers of this stripped down argot, Globs. There then arises the doubtful anecdote that the native speaker cannot follow anyone else, since he is used to nuances, humour, wordplay and so on. And a chap wrote a whol ebook about this, setting out grammar and rules such as avoid jokes, metaphor and anything else that may serve to confuse (or add life to the proceedings).

In a meeting with colleagues from around the world, including an Englishman, a Korean and a Brazilian, he noticed that he and the other non-native English speakers were communicating in a form of English that was completely comprehensible to them, but which left the Englishman nonplussed.

He, Jean-Paul Nerriere, could talk to the Korean and the Brazilian in this neo-language, and they could understand each other perfectly.

But the Englishman was left out because his language was too subtle, too full of meaning that could not be grasped by the others….

Globish has only 1,500 words and users must avoid humour, metaphor, abbreviation and anything else that can cause cross-cultural confusion.

They must speak slowly and in short sentences. Funnily enough, he holds up the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as an excellent exponent.

If this story is true, which I doubt, then all of the group were sitting with Tim nice but dim. But when sees the object of the book: set rules, curb growth, plant boundaries, one begins to wonder. Is this just another dastardly French plot to curb the spread of English by attempting to create a simple, unfunny version? Rather similar to the new brain that the mice would have given to Arthur Dent with useful phrases and the ability to enjoy a nice cup of tea. .

19 comments to “We’re just urinating on the ashes of the fire”

  • Miv Tucker

    Read Jack Vance’s The Languages of Pao for an extended, sophisticated meditation on this theme.

  • Nuke Gray!

    I always get ironic joy out of the thought that English is now the lingua franca of the world!

  • The Light

    “We’re just urinating on the ashes of the fire”

    The French, having apparently never won a battle in their entire recorded history, have evidently cottoned on to the fact that they have also lost yet another battle – the battle to become the base language for a global lingua franca.

    And if you want to check up on France’s military history, then type in “French military victories” to Google search, and press the “I’m feeling lucky” button. You will be directed to a page which asks:

    Did you mean: french military defeats
    No standard web pages containing all your search terms were found.
    Your search – french military victories – did not match any documents.

    – and a link is given to:


    -where an excellent piece of research lays bare the reality of France’s military history.

    Maybe a little off-topic: What exactly does “Piss on the ashes” mean, anyway? It seems to be used nowadays in a highly derogatory sense, but when I first came across the term it was not so – it was during a sales training course given by IBM in the 1970s.

    The instructor had been talking about different types of sales call. If you had – for example – put a sales proposal forward in response to a request for proposal, and if you had lost the bid to a competitor, then it was in order to make a “POTA” (“Piss on the ashes”) call to your client or sales prospect. The purpose of the call was to:

    (a) try to establish what were the factors that led to your losing out on this bid, and

    (b) to see if there was any possibility of recovering to a winning position.

    The idea was that it was a low risk call – you couldn’t damage your sales prospects further by making such professional enquiries, since you had already lost the bid anyway.

    Is it still used in this (sales) sense nowadays?

  • Laird

    Glad to see that the French are still suffering from delusions of relevance.

  • Bod

    Pissing on the ashes was very much an IBM sales technique thru’ the mid-80’s, at least.

    It was technique 14 of 14 on the IBM Personal Computer Sales courseware tape, and they spent a long time on demonstrating just how successful it could be.

    In fact, on 2 occasions, colleagues of mine actually managed to discover that the reason they had ‘lost’ the bid was on price. Naturally, that in turn gave them another shot at closing a deal, this time, already knowing the objection.

    OK, digression over …

  • guy herbert

    Globish is spoken in parallel with international management-speak which has more words, but even fewer available meanings. Globish is interesting though, in that it is a natural version of Basic English, which Orwell was satirising and extrapolating in NewSpeak. But actually the equivalent of NewSpeak as the language of political control is the corporate dialect, which is unable to express concepts of society or life outside bureaucratic compliance, except by pejoratives expressing ourage of system standards, such as “unacceptable” or “inappropriate”.

  • We will know the French have won on the day the EU sets up L’Academie Anglaise.

  • I can’t believe that story is real, because England leads the world in talking simply to foreigners who couldn’t be bothered to learn English properly.

  • Jim

    Just what the world needs, another pidgin, only this one all tarted up in expensive suits. Who knows, maybe in a couple of centuries or so someone will still be doing “Tribal Lives” for the Discovery Channel and will interview some EU bureacrats about their customs around the Yam Festival

  • Alice

    I have not heard the term “Globish”, but recognize the phenomenon.

    It is painful for the native English speaker when one has to wait for the Venezuelan to explain (in English) to the Romanian what the native English speaker has just said (in English). It turns out to be rather difficult for native speakers to keep their English simple enough.

  • naman

    While visiting the Philippines in my youth, I noticed two Filipinos conversing with each other in almost incomprehensible English. I later found out that the two could not understand the others regional dialect and neither could speak Tagalog (the ‘official’ language of the Philippines) so they communicated in a language they both had some knowledge of: English.

    A coworker from India has also seen this phenomena in his home country where the people communicating could not speak each others regional tongue, nor could they speak Hindi, so they defaulted to English, which each party could understand.

  • Nuke Gray!

    I once saw an amusing dispute. I was holidaying in Beijing in the mid-eighties, and I heard a frenchman using his french-accented English on a Chinese doorman, who was answering back in his Chinglish, neither understanding the other! I realised then that I had an advantage in being born in an English-speaking country. (Of course, in earlier centuries, being born french would have been blessed, and before that, the Spanish were top peros.) I think, though, that English will stay the top language for a long time- The powerful american Economy will keep it relevant, as will the financial clout of the City of London.

  • MarkE

    Having worked for some years in multi national companies I have learned enough “globish” to get by, but without having heard the term before. When dealing with non native English speakers I have sometimes found myself trying to walk the line between speaking clearly and simply, and patronising colleagues. I do sometimes feel like the woman in Airplane who spoke a little jive and traslated for the stewardess!

    I did once find myself on the other side of the equation when dealing with East Europeans; German was the second language of everyone present, and the only one we all had in common, so we worked in German. There was no native German speaker present so I don’t know how strange we all sounded.

  • The notion the English person was unable to understand is not very plausible. English is not that easy a language to learn due to its many irregularities, which means you often cannot deduce words, but one of its huge strong points over languages such as French, for example, is the fact English is very ‘damage resistant’… you can mangle it pretty badly and still convey what you are trying to say.

    In fact I have found one of the few sure ways for completely flummox the language is to make inanimate gender errors, such as “she sat on him” (when “him” turns out to be a chair) rather that “she sat on it”… that sort of thing.

  • Kim du Toit

    I can understand the rise of pidgin English — I’ve been to India and Africa — but I think it would be incorrect to ascribe its growth to the French.

    They can’t even develop their OWN language…

  • If our civilization survives and I think that is in doubt right now as it seems to have lost the will to defend itself, “Globish” will no doubt evolve. I don’t like the name either, how about “Terran” ? Nice little embedded pro space meme.

  • ian

    ‘Globish’ isn’t a pidgin, which is something else entirely, but as Guy points out a naturally arising variant of basic english. That doesn’t mean it exists as a living language. I suspect that it is only in use in a pretty narrow subset of users – another example, just as valid, would be ‘tabloid speak’

    As for english speakers understanding it, that is really down to accent and pronunciation, not syntax or vocabulary. If you have ever listened in on a conversation between a Brummie and a Donegal man you will see that mutual incomprehension is just as possible between native speakers.

  • David

    You can read a couple of chapters of the real thing — IN Globish — in the new book Globish The World Over now at http://www.globish.com or read reviews Eyrolles publishers.