Reporters on the Job

Heard in the Boardroom: One of the more peculiar phenomena that the recent debate in France over racial discrimination has thrown up is the variety of euphemisms politicians and pundits use to talk about their minority fellow citizens, says staff writer Peter Ford. Unaccustomed to identifying people by their ethnic origins, and still reluctant to do so, commentators use phrases such as "coming from immigration" or "coming from diversity," or - daringly - "visible minorities" (though Peter wonders what makes handicapped people, for example, "invisible minorities").

One sign that things are changing at Peugeot, Peter reports, is that officials right up to the boardroom call French people of North African origin beurs, which is how everybody, including the North Africans, refer to them in normal conversation. The word comes from verlan, a common slang that reverses words' syllables. "So Arabe becomes beur, and everyone knows what you are talking about," says Peter. Femme (woman) becomes meuf, to give another example. The meaning is not pejorative, Peter says. And verlan's purview extends beyond French: In reporting on the recent unrest, Peter was interested to hear black teens use the word babtou. It was the "verlanization" of a West African term, toubab, meaning white person.

Heard on the Street: Correspondent Fred Weir has traveled to Ukraine for some 20 years. But when he stepped off the train from Moscow on a recent visit, he was surprised that the first thing he saw was an anticorruption demonstration. "Whatever the pros and cons of a street revolution such as Ukraine's, one thing is certain: It inspired people to feel that they had a stake in their future," he says.

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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