Why Ann Widdecombe Got Her French “Leave” Terribly Wrong

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A trilogy of posts on Ann Widdecombe! I cannot believe that I’m wasting my time on an old lady who is well past her “sell-by” date. I promise that you will not see another post on her from this particular IP address. Promise that, I do. But it sprang to my attention that no one actually corrected Madame Widdecombe on the very last gasping rage of her outburst. You know, the bit where she ran out of superlatives concerning the EU and used the verb “to leave” in three different languages, none of which were her own. Since one Facebook user (bless him) actually asked me what she said wrong, let me enlighten you over the subtleties of the language of Molière.

This is what she said:

that’s why we’re going, nous allons, wir gehen, we’re off.

Very snazzy, I must say. Snazzy indeed! Nothing but snazz! It’s about time that European parliament had a bit of culture within its walls and a true polyglot amongst its members. No riff-raff here, of course! No, certainement pas

The only little problem is that Ann Widdecombe’s French grammar is not quite that what it should be. You see, she has the misfortune – indeed, bad luck – that I was cunning enough to have picked it up. Pretentious, moi?

At my French school, I was useless at maths, having calculated that it would take 108 years for a little old lady to buy a teak wardrobe by paying monthly installments. However, it’s not like me to boast, certainly not, but I was particularly good and top de la classe, in French grammar.

You see, the French verb “aller” (to go) is a rather special little gem of the French language, together with its counterpart “venir” (to come). The two verbs evoke a spatial displacement that takes place between specified points of origin and destination. The weight given to the specified points differs between the two verbs. For “aller,” the importance of the destination point is such that it needs to be specified. In other words, you cannot say “nous allons” (we go) without specifying a destination that cannot remain abstract. In fact, “nous allons,” should be a translation of “we go to,” with the “to,” being an integral part of the translation. Thus, the destination cannot be implied and must be stated or specifically referred to.

  • Nous allons au cinéma. Vous y allez? (We are going to the cinema. Are you going?)
  • Oui, nous y allons. (Yes, we are going.)

 

The “y” refers specifically to the word “cinéma.” You cannot say, “nous allons.”

 

But of course, the francophiles amongst you will have already guessed that the above is irrelevant, and is irrelevant for one reason only. Ann Widdecombe, in all her fury, used the wrong bloody verb. The English verb “to go,” which she uses as meaning “to leave,” should have been translated by “partir,” and not “aller,” because the point of origin is known (the EU) and the destination does not need to be specified.

Nous partons. (We are going.)

So there you have it. Not only did Ann Widdecombe get the verb that she used wrong, but she also used the wrong verb. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t the only thing that she got terribly wrong in Strasbourg.