Subscribe
Verbal Energy

FIFA, ‘disloyal’ fees, and false friends

In the world soccer scandal, the dubious translation of a Swiss-French legal term highlights the confusions caused by ‘false friends.’

  • close
    The grille of a Volkswagen car for sale is decorated with the iconic company symbol in Boulder, Colo.
    Brennan Linsley/AP
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

The Volkswagen diesel fiasco may have bumped the turmoil around the world body for soccer out of the top spot on the league standings for European scandals.

But “Johnson,” the language blog over at The Economist, has pointed out an aspect of the soccer scandal that’s worth noting here, too. If you’re just tuning in: Sepp Blatter has been under fire for “corruption.” He heads FIFA, the international body governing soccer, or football, as it is known virtually everywhere outside the United States.

He insists on his innocence. But FIFA’s ethics committee provisionally banned him Oct. 8. By the time you read this, he may be gone altogether. Or not.

What “Johnson” took note of was the Swiss prosecutors’ press release accusing Mr. Blatter of signing a contract deemed unfavorable to FIFA and of making what was reported as a “disloyal payment” to the head of the Union of European Football Associations.

How can money be “disloyal”?

Paiement déloyal is a Swiss-French legal term with “no exact proxy in legal English,” “Johnson” explains. “ ‘Corrupt’ is too strong.... ‘Illicit’ is close – meaning originally without ‘license’ or permission. But etymologically, plain ‘illegal’ might be the closest thing.”

There are plenty of lively English renderings for déloyal – dishonest, unfair, underhanded, below the belt, unsporting. 

But these perhaps lack juridical gravitas. And so the English-language press went with the head-scratching “disloyal.” Both legal and loyal come from the Latin word for law. Legal, though, had a more direct association with courts and the law.

Loyal came into English via Middle French, where the word had broadened to mean good quality and faithfulness. As the Online Etymology Dictionary notes, “Sense development in English is feudal....” The original “loyal” servant was one “faithful in carrying out legal obligations.”

Déloyal in the sense of “illegal” is an example of something English-speaking students of French learn to watch for: “false friends.” These words look familiar but mean something close-but-not-quite to their English equivalents. The French déception, for instance, is “disappointment,” not “deceit.” Assister means simply to “attend” lectures, for instance, not to help the professor out. Attendre is waiting, not “tending” (not waiting on, in other words). And lecture is reading, not what a professor does in front of a class.

French has been a powerful influence in English ever since the Norman Conquest. For English-speakers, it’s smart to watch out for dubious translations of “false friends,” whether in French class or at any of the numerous international organizations where English and French share top billing as the working languages, including the United Nations, NATO, and even FIFA – the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.

And FIFA (pronounced “fee-fah”) makes for a much more graceful acronym, don’t you think, than would “the WBGtSTJAEbUACF” – the World Body Governing the Sport That Just About Everyone but Us Americans Calls Football.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK