Monday, March 17, 2008


Andrew Ferguson in the March 24th Weekly Standard:
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.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

But there's precedent! Reminds me of "We Are The World." P.J. O'Rourke did a pretty good job of deconstructing that song in Give War a Chance (1993):

We are the world (solipsism)
We are the children (average age near forty)
We are the ones who make a brighter day (unproven)
So let's start giving (logical inference supplied without argument)
There's a choice we're making (true as far as it goes)
We're saving our own lives (absurd)
It's true we'll make a better day (see line 3 above)
Just you and me (statistically unlikely)

"That's three palpable untruths, two dubious assertions, nine uses of a first person pronoun, not a single reference to trouble or anybody in it and no facts. The verse contains, literally, neither rhyme nor reason."

OBloodyHell said...


AVI, you beat me to it. I was thinking of just the same thing.

If "We Are The World" can "make sense" to these nitwits in the 80s, then "We are the ones we've been waiting for" can make just as much sense to them in the Aughts...

Hint: Logic and reason ain't their strong suit. Never has been, never will be.

Remember my motto:
Too much tiger food.
Not enough tigers.


HopiLong Cassidy said...

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.

So, are they the Hopi of the Future or are they just Hopiing for the best?

..Or does this mean that there is Hopi for the Right?

Carl said...

Actually, it gets worse; the article continues (hyperlinks added):

"The origins of the phrase aren't nearly so glamorous or exotic. Two years ago, before Obama even said he wanted to be president, the left-wing-radical-feminist-lesbian novelist Alice Walker published a book of essays and called it We are the Ones We've Been Waiting For. Believe me: If the line had come from the Tribal Elders of the Hopi nation, Alice Walker would have been more than happy to say so. Instead she said it came from a poem published in 1980 by the left-wing-radical-feminist-bisexual poet June Jordan. Neither Walker nor Jordan has said what the sentence means. But Walker did offer this hint in the introduction to her book of essays: 'We are the ones we've been waiting for because we are able to see what is happening with a much greater awareness than our parents or grandparents, our ancestors, could see.'"

OBloodyHell said...

> Actually, it gets worse;

So, what you are saying is, "He plagiarized it"?


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think Carl means that Hopi Tribal Elders are more likely to make sense that left-wing radical feminist lesbian poetesses.

Dam' straight.

Carl said...

Yeah, what he said!