Just the other day two of the New Yorker's bloggers (now there's a phrase to send Harold Ross spinning) were chewing over the widely noted eloquence of Barack Obama. They were struck by "Obama's wonderful line," as one of them described it, to the effect that "We are the ones we've been waiting for." Obama uses it as one of his signature refrains. Some of his followers even turned it into a music video.
So one thing led to another, as it does on blogs, and before long the bloggers began wondering, as they do at the New Yorker, what the phrase would sound like in French.
"You couldn't say it in French," blogged one of the bloggers.
"Are you sure about the French?" the other blogger blogged back. "Mine isn't good enough to know if 'C'est nous qui nous avons attendu' or 'Ceux qui nous attendons, c'est nous' would sound French to a French ear, or if it just would sound stupid."
Oui, blogged the first blogger. It would sound très stupid. "My ear/memory tells me that it would be too weird to say, since I think there's a we/us thing that doesn't work."
Eventually a French journalist was consulted. He ruled summarily that, translated into French, "the Barack Obama sentence [le sentence de la Barack Obama] sounds weird to me."
So there you have it: You can't really say "We are the ones we've been waiting for" in French. The matter was closed. The bloggers moved on. Good times indeed.
But wait. There was something tantalizingly incomplete about this brief discussion of whether the sentence sounds weird in French: What was missing was an acknowledgement of how weird the sentence sounds in English. What, after all, does "We are the ones we've been waiting for" mean, precisely? My hunch is that the sentence is one of those things that no one will admit to being confused by, like the movies of Godard or the tenor-sax solos of John Coltrane, lest your peers think you're a loser or a moron. Certainly Obama fans won't admit how obscure the sentence is--though several have claimed that it's lifted from a prophecy of the Tribal Elders of the Hopi Indians. Hopi prophecies are famously obscure.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Andrew Ferguson in the March 24th Weekly Standard: