The French have a fondness for borrowing English words that actually don’t exist. After le parking, (where you park your cars), le camping (where you park your tents), here comes le testing. Now I know testing exists in English, but not in the very specific meaning it’s been given in French. It is a strategy used by organisations fighting against racism to uncover discriminatory practices by night-clubs. They send black and white people and "Beurs" (French people of Arab origin) to clubs; if only white people are let in, they can safely conclude that discrimination is taking place, and as the French judicial system has validated this method, the clubs in question can be prosecuted. According to an article in the Nouvel Obs, la "nuit du testing" organised in July by SOS Racisme uncovered that 40% of the "tested" establishments practiced discrimination.
This reminds me of the French expression "délit de faciès" (délit = offence, faciès = face), which means that you’re immediately suspected of being a criminal because of your foreign looks (for example, one could argue that the Brazilian Jean-Charles de Menezes was killed because of "délit de faciès"). I can’t think of an equivalent in English, so I would have to resort to a paraphrase to translate it.
No guest blogger this month, unfortunately I really had to neglect my blog this month due to having to concentrate on my work. Sorry!

By | 2016-10-18T15:50:52+00:00 August 25th, 2005|Words|11 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Anita Rowland August 25, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    How about being pulled over for “driving while black” ?

  2. céline August 25, 2005 at 1:46 pm

    Anita, have you seen Crash (the Don Cheadle movie, not the one with cars)? Your comment reminded me of it, it’s all about race relations in Los Angeles, and it’s excellent.

  3. srah August 25, 2005 at 6:58 pm

    When I was teaching English, my students couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that the “English” words they knew for things weren’t really English (or weren’t English for what they thought they were for) – “le smoking”, “le pressing”, “le shampooing”, etc.
    Why do they like our -ing words so much?!

  4. language hat August 28, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    Of course English does the same thing to French: “nom de plume,” “savoir faire,” etc.

  5. nourdineeeeee August 30, 2005 at 11:47 am

    Do you French guys use this word just in this case??? Don’t you use “testing” even with the other meanings? Cuz it seems to me that this particular way of using “testing” in French represents just a particular case of the more general English meaning, don’t you think? It doesn’t distort the real meaning at all and if English people were so anti-racist as French people are [or are supposed to be:-)] they would probably use this word in such a specialized way as well! ciao

  6. Jez August 30, 2005 at 2:24 pm

    Le footing!

  7. céline August 31, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    LH: yes, but aren’t “nom de plume” and “savoir-faire” used in the same sensed as in French?
    Nourdineeeeee: I don’t think “testing” is used in any other sense in French.

  8. language hat August 31, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    Don’t the French say “nom de guerre” and “savoir vivre”?

  9. céline September 1, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    Ah, but ‘savoir-faire’ (know-how) and ‘savoir-vivre’ (manners, etiquette) are two distinct expressions in French, and I do think ‘savoir-faire’, when borrowed in English, has the same meaning as in French. And ‘nom de plume’ is also used in French in the same meaning as in English (nickname, pseudonym).

  10. Bill September 28, 2005 at 8:41 am

    This reminds me of the Civil Rights movement in the US in the 60s when “testing” did indeed take place. I found this on a civil rights site:
    The Reagan administration and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) sought to constrain the FHIP by barring grants to agencies that engaged in systematic “testing” — a technique for identifying discrimination by using teams of equally qualified blacks and whites who might, for example, seek to buy the same house or rent the same apartment.

  11. céline September 28, 2005 at 8:54 am

    Well that’s really interesting, it means that “testing” isn’t a French made-up word but was actually borrowed from an English term used by the civil rights movement… Thanks Bill for sharing!

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