The Bardo Museum in Tunis, site of yesterday's terrorist attack
The Bardo Museum in Tunis, site of yesterday’s terrorist attack

It makes my heart ache that once again, I am writing about words that I learnt because of a terrorist attack.  I am reminded of something that Katherine Rich wrote about studying Hindi in India just after the 9/11 attacks (in her beautiful book Dreaming In Hindi):

“We know how to say ‘terrorists killed the man.’ We don’t know the word for ‘side table.'”

Yesterday was the terrorist attack on the museum in Tunisia.  Today I woke up to this headline on my phone:

Vague d’interpellations après l’attaque du musée du Bardo à Tunis

If you know that the Bardo is the museum in question, then you’re probably comfortable with all of this but the word interpellation. 

This word has a number of meanings in English, which you can find here.  (I think there’s an additional meaning in anatomy, where I believe it has to do with something being interleaved with something else, as in interpellated disc, but I actually haven’t been able to find any evidence that I’m not imagining that.)

In French, there are also a number of meanings, mostly related to hostile interchanges.  Let’s start with the verbs:

  • interpeller:
    • (of the police) to take in for questioning
    • (in politics) to interpellate (see English definitions above), to question
    • (= appeler) to call out to
    • (= apostropher) to shout at
  • s’interpeller (reciprocal reflexive): to shout at each other

Now, the noun:

  • (la) interpellation:
    • (by the police) questioning
    • (politics) interpellation, questioning


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