The actor, the drug lord, and Zipf’s Law

Screenshot 2016-01-12 13.31.17
Screen shot of Rolling Stone’s tweet announcing the Sean Penn/El Chapo interview. That’s Penn on the left and El Chapo on the right.

The French press is just as abuzz about the whole Sean Penn/El Chapo thing as the American press is.  In case you’re reading this 10 years from now: “El Chapo” is the nickname of Joaquin Guzman, until recently one of the biggest drug dealers in the world–he may still be, although from behind bars.  He was arrested and imprisoned in 1991, and then escaped.  He remained free until 2014, when he was recaptured and, again, imprisoned.  In 2015 he escaped again, this time apparently being driven down an underground tunnel on the back of a motorcycle.

All was well for him until he decided that a movie should be made about his life.  He reached out to the motion picture industry, which somehow led to him being “interviewed” by American actor Sean Penn, the resulting interview being published in Rolling Stone magazine.  This exposure led to him being captured once again, and at the time that I write this, he is still in jail, hoping like hell he doesn’t get extradited to the United States.

We actually have two Zipf’s Law connections with this story–one regarding Sean Penn, and one regarding El Chapo.

Some time ago, we read about the filles du roi–the French orphans who were sent to Canada to get married and increase the French-speaking population in North America between 1663 and 1673.  You might recall from that post that Madonna is descended from a fille du roi.  In 1985, she broke the heart of every young man in America by marrying Sean Penn.

El Chapo’s Zipf’s Law connection is lexical–i.e., one of those bazillion words that is not particularly unusual, but that you nonetheless almost never hear (in the big scheme of things).  As I said, El Chapo is all over the news, and he is almost referred to by his name–Joaquin Guzman–followed by surnommé El Chapo, meaning “nicknamed El Chapo.”  Here’s an example from France 24‘s web site:

Les autorités mexicaines ont annoncé vendredi l’arrestation de Joaquin Guzman, surnommé “El Chapo”, le plus important narcotrafiquant mexicain, qui s’était évadé de façon rocambolesque d’une prison de haute sécurité le 11 juillet dernier.

On Friday, Mexican authorities announced the arrest of Joaquin Guzman, nicknamed “El Chapo,” the most important Mexican drug trafficker, who had escaped in an extraordinary fashion from a high-security prison last July 11th.

Surnommer is a great example of Zipf’s Law–not particularly unusual, but low-frequency enough that I haven’t run into it in two years of studying French quite seriously.  Again, it means “to nickname.”  I’m not telling you any of my nicknames…



3 thoughts on “The actor, the drug lord, and Zipf’s Law”

    1. I put “interview” in scare-quotes because I’ve heard journalists carping about whether or not you could call anything that an actor did an interview, per se.

      I would’ve been scared out of my socks…

      Liked by 1 person

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