The young people of Paris

I suppose that, among all peoples and in all times, a certain part of what we call slang insinuates itself into the familiar conversation, and even sometimes dares to be heard in the tribune and on the stage. But it seems to me that France is taking great liberties in her mother tongue right now. Moreover, to treat this subject properly, one would have to be French oneself, and, moreover, erudite. I am content to note with all reservations, as one thing that struck me, that this innovation seems to be increasing visibly.

I know it: we can say that every new word, whether manufactured or borrowed, adds something to the richness of language; and, no doubt, it is so. But the French language, as it was written in the Grand Si├Ęcle, has such a grace, an elegance so accomplished, that it makes up for the lack of abundance which has sometimes been reproached to it. To increase its strength by giving it harshness, it would be like exchanging a pedigree horse against a brewer’s horse:

“You gain in power what you lose in grace,” said the brewer.

-May; but many people, even in this time of activity and utilitarianism where we are, would regret the exchange. ”

For the rest, this is a subject, as I have already said, on which I do not feel entitled to dissert. No one should afford to examine or discuss the finer points of a language that is not his own. But, without allowing such a presumptuous examination, there are words and phrases which are within the range of observation of a stranger and which strike me as remarkable at the moment, either by the frequency of their use in the conversation, either by the emphatic meaning given to them.

The young people of Paris[B] seems to me one of those expressions. Translate it in English, and you will find no more remarkable meaning than this: “The young men of London” or of any other metropolis. But hear this phrase in Paris … Mercy! it sounds like lightning. It is not, however, that she is noisy and boastful, she has rather an imposing or mystical sense; it seems to symbolize the power, the science, -yes, and the whole wisdom of the whole nation.

The young France is another of those cabalistic expressions that leave one to understand something great, terrible, volcanic, sublime. I must confess that these two sentences, pronounced as they always are, with a mysterious emphasis which seems to say that what they express goes beyond what is heard, produce an astonishing effect on me. I realize fully that I do not fully understand all the nuances to which they allude, and I dread to ask for explanations that would perhaps make things even more unintelligible to me …

Apart from these and some other sentences which I may later be able to quote as difficult to understand, I have learned a brand new word for myself, which I believe has recently been introduced into the French language; at least, it is {20}not in dictionaries, and I guess this is one of those happy innovations that come from time to time enrich and strengthen the language. How would the old Academy have treated this term? I do not know. But it seems to me very expressive, and I think that we can very properly use it; in any case, I will often use it as a most useful adjective. This newborn word is rococo. It seems to me to designate, for all that is young and new, all that bears the imprint of the taste, the principles, or the feelings of the past.

The epithet of rococo can be applied to that part of the French population which has kept the old fashioned, the taste of the laced clothes and the knots of diamond sword, like the one which, by a proud royalism, remains devoted to his legitimate king, although she can expect nothing from it; such is the meaning of the word rococo in the mouth of a doctrinaire. But now hear a republican pronounce it: he will apply it to all kinds of regular authority, even to the present power, and, in fact, to all that pertains to the law or the Gospel.

There is another adjective which seems to me to be used very frequently and which deserves just as much to be considered as fashionable. It is a good old, regular, beautifully expressive word, and today more than usual:

the disjointed adjective . Reasonable minds seem to use it to describe the wanderings of the new literary school, and all those shreds of opinion that have been collected by chance from the young people who talk about philosophy, as it is at this moment in good humor. to do in Paris.

If the whole population were to be divided into two great divisions, I doubt whether it could be more explicitly than by these two terms: the Decousus , the Rococos . I told you what the class of Rococos would consist of . That of the Decousus would include the whole ultra-romantic school: novelists, poets, playwrights; republicans of all shades, from those who confess to admire “the ardent Robespierre” to the peaceful disciples of Lamennais; finally most schoolchildren and all fishwomen in Paris …