Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tous des cons

In honor of President's Sarkozy's telling off of a man who refused to shake his hand at the annual Paris agricultural fair, I will introduce a key piece of everyday French vocabulary: the all-purpose insult, con.

A con (pronounced "cone," but while swallowing the "n") is a cross between an idiot and a jerk. Cons, alas, come in all shapes and sizes: there is the young, cocky jeune con, the old and stubborn vieux con, the feminine conne, and the most lamentable of creatures, the despicable sale con. If someone earns your pity and your contempt in equal measure, they are a pauvre con or a poor idiot, indeed.

Thus Sarkozy classified a man in the crowd who indignantly refused to return the presidential handshake and bonjour. Their brief exchange, which concluded with Sarkozy's "Casse-toi, pauvre con," ("Buzz off, poor idiot") before turning to continue to smile and wish bonjour to onlookers through a clench-toothed smile, was captured on film by Le Parisien daily newspaper and quickly distributed on the web in yet another example of how the Internet is raising the level of public discourse.

Con is the perfect Parisian insult, as it encompasses every shade of urban disdain. The young, indifferent waiter who ignores you is a jeune con, the woman who blithely cuts in front of you at the boulangerie is a vieille conne, the cab that almost runs you down at the crosswalk is a con de taxi, and the sidewalks are minefields thanks to our best friends, the cons de chiens. In fact, many a Parisian has exclaimed at the end of the day that the city is unlivable because of all of the cons. Tous des cons, les parisiens: idiots, Parisians, every last one.

Elsewhere in France, however, con is less insult than punctuation. In the southwest of France, around Toulouse, the birthplace of my husband, con is added to the end of sentences as a verbal exclamation point. No aggression is intended, the con is just decoration, much like the "like" that slips into conversational American English.

In the end, my favorite usage of con is the expression "être comme un con," to be embarrassed, inept, to discover yourself stuck just like an idiot. And so must Sarkozy have felt as he realized the camera was rolling during his outburst over the weekend. "Ah oui," you could almost see in his thin, forced smile, "I am comme un con once again."

1 comment:

Isabelle said...

Did you see the movie "Le dîner de cons", very funny indeed !