I first heard about the 9/11 attacks while sitting in my office. I’d just eaten my peanut butter sandwich–3 hours before lunch. Crap. My wife called: a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. Private plane? Airliner? Accidentally? On purpose? No one knew. Soon she called back: the other tower had been hit, too.
All of the news sites were crashing under the load, but one of my office mates had a radio–not a common thing in those days. People gathered around; we listened as the towers fell, as the Pentagon was hit, as Flight UA93 went down in Pennsylvania.
One of the grad students wasn’t quite there with the rest of us, though. After an hour or two, he said: this is huge, and the repercussions of this are going to be playing out for years, but I really need to get this assignment finished. …and he went back to hacking.
Personally, I was useless for the rest of the day. Around noon, it seemed pretty clear that nothing else was going to happen, and I went home to see if I could catch it on TV. We talked about how to break the news to my kid. We found out how to donate blood. I spent hours on the phone trying to make sure that my cousin who spent a lot of time at the Pentagon was OK. Work: not at all.
I felt pretty much the same today. 6 AM China time found me sitting in front of my computer watching the first returns come in. By mid-morning, I did what I do when I’m really, really unhappy: I crawled into bed and went to sleep. When I got up an hour later, the situation was even worse. The rest of the day was spent flipping between NBC and the Politico web site, where I watched the pool of red spread across the country. Normally when I’m anxious, I deal with it by working. A very adaptive response, I find–but, I was way beyond anxiety. As bizarre as this will sound: I found myself passing the time waiting for Trump to give his acceptance speech making French vocabulary flash-cards, because that’s at least easy and distracting, and it gave me a way to think about something other than the fact that a complete assclown had just been elected president of the most powerful country in the world (for the moment–until he fucks it up; assclown explained below in the English notes). When it was all over, I found myself doing something that I haven’t done in a long, long, long time: watching cartoons on TV. They were on the one French-language station that I’ve found in China. It was about ninja cats. They used the subjunctive, so I’m counting it as studying.
As it happens, I’ve been trying to find a good French equivalent for the American English expression “to screw (something) up” or “to mess (something) up.” I’ve been using merder, but I have a feeling that it’s too vulgar for a lot of contexts. Sometimes you come across things right when you need them, and as I watched a lot of American voters screw up very badly, I came across foirer and faire foirer. I found these definitions of them:
- foirer: to screw (something) up, to mess (something) up (WordReference). To mess up, to go wrong, to fail (Reverso.net).
- faire foirer: to mess (something) up (Collins)
OPUS2 is a collection of millions of words in the same text translated between about 40 different languages–what’s known as a parallel corpus. EUROPARL is another parallel corpus–a collection of the proceedings of the European Parliament translated between all of the languages of the European Union. I searched them through the Sketch Engine web site’s interface.
Seems relatively innocuous. However, looking at translations on line, I think it might be stronger than the dictionary suggests. I found translations along the lines of “screw/mess up,” but I also found plenty of “fuck up,” particularly in the OPUS2 corpus. And, foirer doesn’t show up even once in the EUROPARL corpus, which is consistent with the idea that it might not be as socially acceptable as the WordReference and Collins definitions suggest. (Neither does merder.) Here are some examples of both, from OPUS2 and from the Linguee.fr web site.
- Tu foires tout! You’ve done nothing but screw up! (OPUS2)
- J’ai tout foiré. I messed up bad. (OPUS2)
- J’ai eu ma chance et j’ai foiré. I had my chance, and I muffed it. (OPUS2)
- C’était comme un mariage foiré. It was like a really fucked up wedding. (OPUS2)
- Et qu’arrivera-t-il si je foire tout encore une fois? What happens if I fuck up again? (OPUS2)
- II y a huit jours, vous êtes arrivé défoncé à une simple néphrectomie, vous l’avez foirée, mis le patient en syncope en le tuant presque. Eight days ago you showed up half-stoned for a simple nephrectomy … botched it, put the patient in failure, and damn near killed him. (OPUS2)
- Ça foire quand on arrive aux desserts. It always goes wrong when we come to the desserts. (OPUS2)
- Depuis que je suis rentré, je foire tout ce que j’entreprends. It’ s just that since I got back, it seems like the only natural talent I got is for screwing up. (OPUS2)
- J’ai foiré mon audition aujourd’hui. I did terribly at an audition today. (OPUS2)
- Si ça a foiré , je veux savoir comment. If this is fucked up, I wanna know how. (OPUS2)
Nous avons tenté de faire une tournée à l’étranger et deux tournées étaient presque confirmées mais bien sûr elles ont foiré à la fin. We tried to get some abroad tour and two tours were already nearly confirmed but of course in the end they fucked up. (Linguee.fr)
- Ceci est susceptible de faire foirer votre partenaire, puisqu’il a alors un temps mort, et qu’il ne relancera donc pas la… This trick is likely to make your partner fuck up the pattern as she gets a ‘hold’, and thus won’t be passing back the same… (Linguee.fr) (I put this under faire rather than faire foirer because it’s the partner who’s going to foirer–a different construction from faire foirer followed by a direct object, I think.)
- …lieu 20 minutes avant que CATHEDRAL ne monte sur scène : j’ai littéralement foiré ma performance à cause du style vocal ! …literally 20 minutes before CATHEDRAL was due to play on stage, so I literally fucked my performance due to the vocal style! (Linguee.fr) (Can’t wait to see the reactions to avant que…ne monte!)
- Vous faites foirer le plan. You’re screwing up the plan. (OPUS2)
- Seulement si tu fais tout foirer. Only if you blow it, dear. (OPUS2)
- Il me plaît vraiment, alors ne fais pas tout foirer. I really like him, so don’t screw this up. (OPUS2)
- C’est comme si tu voulais tout faire foirer. It’s like you’re actually trying to screw this up. (OPUS2)
- Mais j’ai juste tout fait foirer pour tout le monde. …but I’ve just messed up everything for everyone. (OPUS2)
- Ensuite, le bureau central fait tout foirer. And the Central Office then proceeds to screw everything up. (OPUS2)
- Nous sommes en parfaite osmose avec Waldemar et nous ne pouvions pas nous permettre de tout faire foirer. We are in perfect osmosis with Waldemar and we could not allow ourselves to screw everything up. (Linguee.fr)
Native speakers: how about it? Can I say merder at work? Can I say (faire) foirer at work? In front of a friend’s children? In front of a friend’s mother? Input appreciated. Like the grad student said: the repercussions of yesterday’s American presidential election are going to be playing out for years, and I think that I’m going to be needing a way to talk about how badly the American voter has “screwed things up” for quite a while to come…
In Assholes: A theory of Donald Trump (originally published under the title Assholes: A theory) the philosopher Aaron James defines assholes in general like this:
A person counts as an asshole, when and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.
As described in John Kelly’s article In honor of the GOP nominee: What exactly is an assclown?, originally from the Strong Language blog, James goes on to develop a typologoy of assholery; assclown in particular is defined as follows:
…someone who seeks an audience’s enjoyment while being slow to understand how it views him.