Saturday 20 January 2018

Mark Forsyth: How tin tacks and syntax can change the way we look at world

Mark Forsyth

It's not often that the finer points of lexicography make it into the news. But this week it's happened twice: once via a Beijing publisher, and once at the top of the Pyrenees.

On Sunday, somebody -- nobody knows who -- scattered the route of the Tour de France with sharp metal tacks. The result was 30 cyclists suffering punctures just before one of the most dangerous downhill stretches of the tour. The reigning champion, Cadel Evans, was delayed, and the current yellow jersey holder, Bradley Wiggins, decided to slow down too -- not because he had a puncture himself, but because he thought it just wouldn't be sporting to take advantage of such a thing.

The result has been an outpouring of English words in the French press. Bradley is now "le gentleman Wiggins" and his sportsmanship is an example of "le fair play". The implication is that being a decent chap is such a British concept that only the British could have a word for it.

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