Most of today’s generation is not familiar with the Walkman, an item that was trendy with the youth three decades ago.
Music players were bulky items that most times served as furniture. So, for the first time, Sony came up with a miniature cassette player with earphones that someone could strap on their belt to listen to music on the go. It was the ancestor of the iPod.
The Walkman took the world by storm and the French were not happy. The Académie Française is the guardian of the French language and its biggest fear is the language being anglicized.
Its paranoid defense of the language has even taken on Covid-19 which, in a language affixes gender on everything, became livid when it was referred to masculine terms (le) and ordered it changed to female (la).
It had grudgingly accepted the use of “Week-end” in its vocabulary, but enough was enough. So Walkman was replaced by “balladeer” from the word ballad, taking a stroll. Those were just semantics but they did not stop the item to mean what it was.
That is exactly what has been taking place in the last few days, an instance that was triggered by the US that suggested a rephrasing of the “Genocide against the Tutsi”. It argued – and with reason of course – that some Hutus who opposed the Genocide were also killed but they were not given credit by the terminology.
That argument is sensible, but there is also something known as “lost in translation.
During the 2nd World War, some Germans were killed for hiding Jews or helping them escape, That did not call for the changing of what the Holocaust stood for; a “Genocide against the Jews”.
Whoever came up with that idea chose the wrong moment. Credit should be given where it is due, but playing around with words is playing around with people’s sensibilities.